Consider AI and the workforce, and the conversation typically turns to jobs disappearing, with the thinking following that more advanced technology means fewer people needed to complete tasks. But the team at Baltimore startup Youreka Labs is tackling a much more present problem: There aren’t enough qualified people in the workforce to fill the existing jobs.
The company is setting out to use cloud and software tools to improve existing jobs, and even create more. It does this through a platform that’s designed to provide a simple way for companies to build and deploy mobile services for complex tasks that might typically require a specialist.
On Thursday, the company announced that it is spinning out of Synaptic Advisors, an Annapolis-based consulting company. To fuel growth plans, the company has raised $8.5 million in Series A funding. The round was co-led by Boulder Ventures and Grotech Ventures, both of which have an existing Maryland presence. Salesforce Ventures also participated, and the round is the first investment in Maryland for the venture arm of the San Francisco-headquartered cloud computing giant.
The company is led by CEO Bill Karpovich, a former general manager of IBM Cloud Platform who has also held key leadership roles at well-known Maryland tech companies including Digex, USi, Zenoss and Sonatype. After a period of advising companies and investing with CoFactor Ventures, he cofounded the company with Chief Product Officer Dan Bergner, Chairman Thomas Boosinger and Chief Customer Officer Mike Boosinger.
Inside Synaptic, the team developed a product that was designed to create digital assistants for frontline workers. Accessible through the Salesforce AppExchange, it’s working with companies and organizations that use Salesforce for their customer relationship management tools. Given Salesforce’s place in that space, it makes for a sizable market. Companies can build apps through the no-code system and deploy them within the Salesforce environment.
"Youreka comes in as an agent for workforce development, and opening up new possibilities, while the business is able to deliver services at a lower cost."
Finiding initial traction in sectors including healthcare, energy and utilities, manufacturing and the public sector, the product grew 300% in 2020. With the interest, the leaders decided to raise outside funding and spin it out.
“Youreka is now its own business and off to the races here in Baltimore,” Karpovich said.
The technology is designed for the kinds of tasks that have multiple steps and variables associated with them. Karpovich said one example is home health assessments, an area in which the company is working with Humana. For workers, there are lots of questions associated with the effort, and a conversation with a patient can change depending on responses. Then, said Karpovich, “we can use artificial intelligence to really help bolster the analytics happening in the field.” The investment funding will in part help to further capabilities through tools like AI and voice.
When it comes to the workforce, Karpovich said these apps can effectively raise the skill levels of employees, but doing so without the extra training or time spent that would typically come with that. For the companies, it can be a tool to fill gaps. The company worked with Procter & Gamble and a division focused around industrial soaps. Karpovich said there were 15 people with the expertise necessary to help clients select what they needed. By developing mobile services with Youreka, he said, 700 technicians are now enabled to do the work that’s needed.
“That’s where Youreka comes in as an agent for workforce development, and opening up new possibilities, while the business is able to deliver services at a lower cost,” Karpovich said.
As the examples indicate, the company has gained notable clients. Others include the energy company Shell, the Transportation Security Administration and the U.K. government, where home health workers used a mobile service for assessments related to COVID-19. Down the line, the company sees expansion possibilities, given that there are other sectors with large groups of field workers.
“Every business you can think of and every worker who’s not sitting at their desk can have a specialized mobile app that helps them do their job better,” he said.
Now, the company is looking to grow. Karpovich said it is looking to double the current team of 40 people, and it is also looking to expand sales and marketing efforts. Soon, it will move into a new headquarters in Locust Point’s McHenry Row, building a base in Baltimore while seeking talent beyond the city, as well.
At this point, Karpovich has been inside a few Maryland companies that have gone on to become growth companies, and eventually exit. In these early stages, he said it feels similar to others who went on to get big.
“There’s no reason that this can’t be a real job producer and successful innovation company here, and that’s what we’re setting out to do and making great progress doing so,” he said.