New experiences are born in Orlando every day – but not exactly where you might think.
Meet Ana. Ana is an AI-powered customer feedback analyst developed by father-son duo Sanjay and Neel Patel who can “read” customers minds – though analyzing aggregate customer feedback data from all over the web. Simply ask Ana a question related to customer data, such as “how do customers feel about our bathrooms?” and she can give you a detailed answer.
Ana wasn’t exactly born overnight, though. The initial idea was sparked when Neel peered over Sanjay’s shoulders while he was working on a consulting project. Neel suggested that technology could do the same work with a lot less effort: Sanjay laughed, and the challenge was on. This small idea has since morphed into a successful and growing tech company. Over the course of many projects and partnerships, Ana has learned how to interpret customer data and deliver the most relevant insights. And what better place for Ana to learn what customers like and dislike than the most visited destination in the country, Orlando.
“Our partnership with the University of Central Florida (UCF) Rosen College of Hospitality Management opened doors for us that we would not have been otherwise able to access,” says Datanautix CTO Neel Patel, who leads the product design effort. Datanautix, the company behind Ana’s intelligence, was founded within the UCF Incubation Program and has grown through the community’s entrepreneurship resources and connective tissue.
Early on as a startup, Datanautix worked with the Rosen College to get connected with two major hotel chains in the area, JW Marriot and Ritz Carlton, using that customer data as development material to build and test Ana’s functionalities. The company was even able to test the AI’s performance by pitting its customer data algorithm against a Rosen College team of students doing the work manually.
What Ana did in five minutes took one masters student days to complete. “And Ana was actually more accurate in its word association analysis,” says Dr. Fevzi Okumus, who serves as CFHLA Preeminent Chair Professor within the Hospitality Services Department at UCF Rosen College. “The system can evaluate associations automatically, a process that usually takes hours through labor-intensive examination.”
The UCF Rosen College is deeply embedded in the region’s hospitality industry and serves as an advantageous asset to many companies who work behind the scenes of the region’s tourism cluster. Dr. Okumus himself is a perfect example of this hyper-connected ecosystem. On a flight to Hong Kong, he happened to sit next to Dave John, COO of Entertainment Technology Partners, the parent company of global video, audio and lighting provider LMG. As a result of this one happenstance meeting, LMG hired twenty Rosen College students, endowed a $25,000 student scholarship and continues to source its interns from the college’s entertainment technology program.
“A lot of the work we do with companies here is a bit of well-kept secret,” Dr. Okumus says. In the case of Datanautix, that work includes jointly applying for grants in order to do further research in the area of customer insight and sentiment analysis.
Being based in Orlando actually increases the likelihood of success for startups and tech-focused companies.Sanjay Patel, CEO of Datanautix
“People here step up and say ‘yes’ more often than in other places,” says Sanjay, who started his first venture also in Central Florida in 2000 and currently serves as the company’s CEO. “And if we had launched Datanautix in Silicon Valley, we would not have been able to do it without needing any outside investment at all.”
The company plans to open a physical presence in StarterStudio’s coworking space in downtown Orlando and join the newly formed Downtown Innovation District. There, Datanautix will work side-by-side with companies that have similarly benefited from collaborations with local organizations such as Omnimodal.
Also based in StarterStudio, Omnimodal is developing its smart mobility technology in partnership with organizations including LYNX, the local bus transit system, as well as the city of Sanford, the Florida Department of Transportation and the city of Orlando. According to the Orlando Business Journal, the company started with a just a cold call to the operations manager of the International Drive Business Improvement District in 2017, which became its first client.
“Orlando’s core strength is that the whole community is working together to support entrepreneurs at every stage,” explains Lilian Myers, executive director of StarterStudio. “And making the right connections is a big part of that.”
For a startup, the ability to gain connections with potential clients early on to develop a product is crucial. And Orlando continues to invest in programs and initiatives to help foster those connections such as the Orlando Tech Council’s Orlando Tech Connect program, which matches local company needs with other local company’s skill sets.
“I’m really excited about the momentum that our tech community has gained over the last ten years,” Neel says. “I’m more optimistic than ever that we’re on the right track to deliver some of the most phenomenal experiences from right here in Orlando. Because we know that nothing is impossible here.”