(Photo by Paige Gross)
It’s a surprise, since the cohort is operating fully virtually due to the pandemic — meaning companies could be tuning in from around the world more easily than ever. But AI security startup Percepta, virtual experiences startup Seshie and preventative cyberbullying startup Kidas are all local and mid-program in the 2020 cohort.
A big reason Comcast hosts the LIFT Labs accelerator is to learn from companies working in fields relevant to its own work, and possibly partner with or buy services from them. Advanced connectivity, future of work, interactive and immersive experiences, and personalized experiences were the focus areas picked for the latest cohort, based on the telecomms giant’s 2020 business priorities — some of which turned out to be especially relevant amid COVID-19 and ongoing calls for racial justice.
Technical.ly talked to Percepta’s founders back in the spring about the “ethical AI” behind its platform, which anonymizes shoppers’ race, gender and age for loss-prevention teams.
Instead of using regular video surveillance, the AI tracks shoppers’ body movements — scanning for employees, looking up for cameras or putting products in their clothing. Then, an image of a person the tech found highly probable of having shoplifted is sent via a mobile app to the store’s loss prevention team, who ultimately make the decision to intervene or not.
“It’s a social good, but it’s also a competitive advantage,” CEO Philippe Sawaya told Technical.ly. “We’ve seen that the public perception of AI is that it can be biased, and the public just isn’t going to accept that.”
Percepta is joined by the just-launched platform Seshie, a marketplace of virtual experiences for people ops teams or anyone who needs to host interesting, engaging virtual events. You can find anything from virtual meditation sessions, mixology lessons or casino nights for a wide range and size of groups.
Cofounders Kofi Frimpong and Will Lee launched the venture in July, after the realization that a demand for virtual programing wasn’t going away any time soon. The pandemic influenced their decision to go in on the idea, Frimpong said, but they’re convinced it’ll fit in a post-COVID world.
“This is a life-changing event,” Frimpong said. “Companies may not be fully remote, but there will be some type of hybrid, and being in the comfort of your own home makes it flexible and inclusive for parents, people with crazy schedules or those who will go on to forever work form home.”
The pair are currently fielding requests from people ops pros, culture leads and managers at large companies, and they see a future working with institutions like universities. Frimpong said he feels they’re doing more than just creating this marketplace of services — they’re also helping people pivot their businesses online to respond to pandemic times.
“We’re building a company at the forefront of virtual talent,” he said.
The Seshie website just launched, and can be used to directly book virtual experiences with up to 20 team members based on price or type of experience. But the business also offers a monthly or yearly subscriptions which grants consultations on sessions, recorded Zoom sessions, access to premium experiences and up to 100 attendees.
The third Philly startup in the cohort is lead by Ron Kerbs, a recent University of Pennsylvania grad who launched Kidas, an AI-powered video game monitoring system that will alert parents when their child is using or comes in contact with bullying or predatory behavior while gaming.
The service is provided via an HDMI dongle placed in an Xbox that monitors for language or behavior aligned with bullying, depression or predators. Kerbs, the CEO, and his three team members (who are distributed overseas) worked with psychologists to create its machine learning algorithms. The AI isn’t just searching for specific words or phrases, it understanders the gist of a conversation and emails the parents if something alarming was conveyed, according to Kerbs.
The focus is on kids ages around 8 to 14, he said, because they’re often old enough to be playing unsupervised, but young enough that they might not know behavior is predatory or harmful.
“They don’t always realize theres someone on the other end who will be hurt by the conversation,” Kerbs said of video game talk; the AI monitors both if a kid is on the receiving or giving end of harmful behavior.
Currently, exchanges are sent to parents in an email, but the team is working on an app that would be part of the subscription service of a few dollars a month. The first round of dongles was sent out last week for testing, and the startup is hoping to work with Comcast in its time in the accelerator, as the company is full of parents who expressed interest in a product like this.
While the CEO said he can work anywhere because the accelerator and the rest of his team is remote, he wants to double down here in Philly. In the future, he hopes to add marketing and business development personnel in the area.
“I definitely see ourselves with a big presence here,” Kerbs said. “I’m staying here even after accelerator ends, and I definitely see myself and seniority in the area.”
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