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How Dell Is Using Machine Learning to Help Female Entrepreneurs

May 9, 2017, 5:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz

Say hello to Hello Alice.

On Tuesday, the Dell and the Circular Board launched Hello Alice, a new machine-learning platform designed specifically for female entrepreneurs. The platform will connect users with information, mentors, referrals, and other resources. According to Dell, Alice will get “smarter” as more entrepreneurs join and use the service, ultimately getting to the point where it can predict users’ needs and provide hyper-targeted content based on factors like the startup’s stage, location, industry, and revenue.

The platform is friendly and chatty in the way or Siri or Alexa. When you log in, it asks, “What can I help you with?” and offers a drop-down menu, including options like financing, strategy, and technology. Depending on your choice, Alice guides you through a few more questions, ultimately leading you to a list of resources on your chosen topic. Those resources come from partners, including the Case Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, Y Combinator, and the Small Business Administration.

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The platform is the brainchild of Carolyn Rodz, founder of the Circular Board, a virtual accelerator for female entrepreneurs. Most accelerators are designed for male entrepreneurs, says Rodz, so she designed the Circular Board to cater specifically to women. The idea behind Alice, she says, is to take that “by women, for women” experience and “bring it to the whole world.”

In working with entrepreneurs, Rodz says she observed some differences in the way men and women absorb and process information. In general, “women tend to respond better to step-by-step frameworks—start at A and end at Z,” she says. Men, on the other hand, “start with the big picture and then drill down.” So it was important to her to create a tool that would connect female entrepreneurs with personalized, verified resources—without having to wade through the entire internet.

Also essential: a platform where people could connect virtually and on any schedule. Female entrepreneurs often launch businesses later in life, she says, which means they’re frequently juggling their startups with family obligations or a day job. “Plus, they could be bootstrapping or starting with half the capital of men,” she says. Such founders can’t always drop everything to join a full-time accelerator or relocate to a startup hot spot; they need to be able to access resources from wherever they are and whenever they can find the time.

Rodz took her idea to Elizabeth Gore, Dell’s entrepreneur-in-residence. Dell jumped on it, enlisting Pivotal, a software developer and part of the Dell Technologies portfolio, to create the platform. Alice went from concept to beta in just over three months—a process that included substantial user testing. The engineers on the project sat in on those feedback sessions, says Gore, part of the effort to guarantee that the platform serves the needs of the women who’d be using it, not a hypothetical (and likely male) user.

Right now, entrepreneurs can use Alice for free, though the Circular Board will eventually start charging for premium features.