MIT delta v Founder’s Talks Culminate with Hayley Sudbury of WERKIN

Hayley Sudbury – photo courtesy of MIT delta v

This summer, MIT’s delta v accelerator program for student entrepreneurs was adapted as a virtual experience. Although this called for a flexibility and creativity all around, one of the benefits was that we were able to virtually connect with some amazing speakers.

Our Founder’s Talk Series let us hear about journeys of successful entrepreneurs, the challenges they’ve had to face, and their advice for our students. This year, we were lucky enough to hear from: Eleanor Carey, an Australian adventurer who gave an inspiring talk relating to the realities of entrepreneurship; George Petrovas, a serial entrepreneur who shared his founder journey; John Belizaire, CEO of Soluna, who spoke about leadership; Perry Cohen, Founder and Executive Director of The Venture Out Project who spoke about his journey; and Ed Baker, Investor, Entrepreneur, and Growth Specialist, previously with Uber and Facebook, who talked to students on scaling their businesses.

We concluded the series by speaking with Hayley Sudbury, founder and CEO of WERKIN, a company that raises the visibility of underrepresented talent. What Hayley and her team are doing at WERKIN is extremely important because although people talk about diversity and inclusion in companies, they don’t always know what to do about it. Here’s a short recap of what we learned from Hayley during her Founder’s Talk.

Overlapping Boundaries between Work and Life

Hayley commented that the boundaries between work and life have formally collapsed since March 2020 when the pandemic hit, and we all went remote. But also, there’s a bit of a trend toward moving back to our true humanity of who we are as people and the businesses we want to build to create change.

As an Aussie Brit, openly gay, tech, female CEO, Hayley jokes that she seems to tick a few boxes around “different.” She comments that getting a more diverse mix of founders will help create change in the world.

Driving Forces for Founding WERKIN

From her job at large bank managing a £ 50 billion balance sheet, Hayley notes she looked around and realized, there were no women above her, and there were certainly no gay women.

Even for the most extroverted types, it’s important to be able to see the version of yourself in life, as you look to create an aspirational pathway for your career or the businesses that you’re building. For Hayley, this was a real motivation to kind of get out and do something different.

Creating Inclusivity and Belonging at Scale for Business

WERKIN is very much focused on helping companies create inclusion and belonging at scale. The name comes from “We Are Kin” – and is dedicated to building a kinship and community within a workplace, helping employees feel visible and supported every day.

With the death of George Floyd earlier this year, there is a greater global awareness that we’re operating in a world where not all is equal. Race is a very important conversation that’s being had right now. This has opened up a broader conversation around consumers demanding more from companies – both companies we work for, and companies that we want to purchase from. Whoever we are, and whatever our lived experience or background is, how we choose to spend our money creates power.

Millennials, particularly, make decisions around wanting to work for a purpose-led organization. They expect more. They expect organizations to not only talk about being equal and fair and transparent, they demand that they are. And they’re looking for the data to kind of back that up as well.

WERKIN has been on a mission for quite a long time around helping organizations create this and inclusion and belonging. But now it feels like there’s much more of a sense of urgency and importance. CEOs are realizing if you really want a different result, you must do different things, and this year has really tipped the balance.

It Started with Mentoring

The seed for WERKIN starting with mentoring and sponsorship, which essentially go hand-in-hand. It’s the stuff that people do for you. It’s the doors that get opened. It’s the connection that someone makes for you to a colleague. It’s those small actions.

So, we looked at ways to democratize this idea of access to the right people, so that you’re visible, and the traditional “having beers in the pub” is not the only way to build rapport. WERKIN was created help that accessibility be open and available to more people.

We then leveraged technology to manage and measure these programs and demonstrate ROI. For us, it is very much a data play, as we create this digital standard for inclusion and belonging.

Love Your Customers, Not Your Product.

Falling in love with your product is a very easy thing to happen. You can see the pain point, for example, but if you fall into the trap of being product-first, not customer-first, it’s very easy to miss the real opportunity to create change.

At WERKIN, we think about how we want to change someone’s journey inside an organization so that they are seen, they are heard, they are visible to a larger percentage of the population. But not only that, they have a clear pathway to accelerate through to the highest levels that are, obviously, economically beneficial for that individual, but also allow them to influence the outcome of the organization.

Embrace the Most Exciting Time in our Lifetimes

While it may look terrifying from an economic outlook, if you’re in the business of building new ways to do things, this is probably the most exciting time in our lifetimes. Both from a change in civil rights, equality, and the move towards shutting down this very separate life we had between work and life, and actually coming back to our humanity. This means businesses that are purpose-driven, sustainability-focused, forward-looking, tech-enabled and changing the way we work, are all presented with massive opportunities right now.

The entrepreneurial journey is certainly a roller coaster ride – enjoy it!

For further insights about Hayley and her founder’s journey, watch her TEDx talk, read the WeAreTechWomen Inspirational Woman profile and the Forbes article on How to Create Change for the Transgender and LGBTQ+ Community in the Workplace.

To see what delta v has been up to this summer, register for our September 17 Demo Day live webcast.

Capturing the Promise of AI

robots-764951_960_720Capturing the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) will require that companies understand that their current software support infrastructure is inadequate. Right now – to the extent that AI exists in organizations – it exists in small models in distinct units.  These models are being created using unique data sets, targeted toward particular outcomes.  However, taking AI to scale and putting it in operationally critical places will require a more robust approach organizationally and therein lies the management challenge.

For example, today if you shop on Amazon, the company’s AI models will give you three related items to purchase – the risk of their being wrong is small to both the organization and the individual consumer.  However, when you are running or building gas pipelines or chemical manufacturing plants, the risks and dangers become much more significant if AI models in those places are wrong.

As we move AI models from small department level models to models that predict and decide in a way that removes important manual work (automating), we change the requirements of the model. Models will need to be more real-time, consistently accurate and available. In short, they will need to act like large-scale enterprise resource software commonly known as tier one software.

The challenge for most organizations and their senior leadership will be scaling up from small, bespoke department models to enterprise-wide models. If companies just take all the small models at the department level and put them into production across the business, you could end up with multiple models doing similar things.  Also, because models are, in essence, small pieces of software, without a strategy, you end up with a lot of custom software that needs to be supported and maintained.  If this software is automating core business decision areas, this becomes a serious problem.

Furthermore, models are like software on steroids –not only do you need to know that if you ping it, you will get a response, you need to decide whether you should use the response that you get. However, that ability to know whether you should trust the response lies in details of the data. For example, is it the same as the data the model was built on?

Finally, unlike software, for a model to be really good at solving a specific problem, it may have limited generalizability.  As a result, there will be strategic decisions and tradeoffs to be made about how when and where to train the model to solve a specific problem exactly and where to generalize and maybe lose some accuracy.

For that reason, the long-term care and feeding of the models themselves will be critical.  This represents a new and significant management challenge as senior executives struggle with the new technology.

Like other revolutionary technology advancements in the enterprise, the business value will only be realized if companies look beyond the technology, to the integration, maintenance and quality process required to scale business impact. Teams will need to develop tools and standards and adhere to appropriate testing and integration processes and develop governance structures that oversee these disciplines. In other words, the use of AI will need to become another well-managed business procedure as it matures in order to have impact enterprise-wide.