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The OneClick team. (Photos via OneClick)

Equipped with an experienced founding team and investment from a renowned artificial intelligence expert, OneClick.AI is on a mission to make AI accessible to businesses of any size and in any market.

OneClick.AI CEO Yuan Shen.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based startup is only a year old but already has the attention of tech giants and early customers who are using the company’s automated AI software. This week, OneClick was accepted into the Intel AI Builders program, and last month it joined the NVIDIA Inception program.

OneClick replicates the job of a human data scientist; it is essentially using AI to let others, including those without technical knowledge, build their own AI tech in a matter of hours or days.

Its proprietary algorithms design deep learning models based on data provided by a user and iterates the designs over time. The startup is working with customers in CPG, retail, manufacturing, insurance, financial services, and aviation that are using OneClick to drive business decisions.

“We founded OneClick.AI last year after witnessing firsthand that artificial intelligence technology was leaping forward, but most businesses weren’t getting value from it,” said Yuan Shen, the company’s CEO. “Many businesses simply don’t have the resources or skills for modeling and engineering. Closing this gap is the opportunity we’re after.”

The 8-person company raised a $1.5 million seed investment from Sinovation Ventures, the China-U.S. venture capital firm established by Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, the former president of Google China and founding director of Microsoft Research Asia whose book, AI Superpowers, debuts later this month. Sinovation is raising a $900 million fund, its fourth, and already has five AI companies in its portfolio valued at more than $1 billion. Lee will be in Seattle next week, discussing his book at a Town Hall event.

Kai-Fu Lee.

OneClick’s founders — Shen, Ning Jiang, and Andy Shen — have nearly three decades of combined experience developing AI and machine learning applications for companies including Microsoft, eBay, and Tableau.

“Unlike most AI companies working on a specific vertical application, we want to be the Excel for AI, offering universal and general solutions across industries,” Shen said.

We caught up with Shen for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We are building the “Excel for Artificial Intelligence” to help business with tasks like forecasting daily sales, identifying faulty auto parts, or predicting whether a person is likely to commit insurance fraud.

Inspiration hit us when: We saw that most AI projects were taking 6-to-12 months of development, and 60 percent of those were failing anyway. At the same time there is the increasing shortage of data scientists — yet more and more job openings in the field every day. This got us discussing how to design a tool that would make AI accessible to anyone.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Our seed funding came from Sinovation Ventures, led by Dr. Kai-Fu Lee who is a renowned AI expert and former president of Google China. It is critical to grow fast as an AI technology company — especially with AutoDL (Auto Deep Learning) being a new AI territory — and we want to be the leader in the space.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: The combined power of our people and our technology. Our team has deep experience adapting machine learning technologies for medical diagnosis, online advertising, search engines, anti-virus, and e-commerce. These various experiences allow us to be thought leaders in the space, see where technology is going, and understand the gaps and challenges ultimately to create a unified solution that solves real business challenges.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Unlike most AI companies working on a specific vertical application, we want to be the Excel for AI, offering universal and general solutions across industries. The technologies and product we built enabled us to scale quickly and reduce the customer’s cost to adopt. We are now working with companies in CPG, retail, manufacturing, insurance, financial services, and aviation. Without the vision and technology, we won’t be as effective or versatile as we are today.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: I wish we would have quit our corporate jobs and launched the company earlier.

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: After giving this one some thought I have to say: Dr Kai-Fu Lee. He provides us with invaluable AI expertise on building the technology and the business, having served as an executive at Apple, Microsoft and Google in the U.S. and China. Due to his wealth of knowledge on AI he perhaps has one of the clearest understandings of how AI will transform the future of work, and our business is built around this notion.

Our favorite team-building activity is: It’s simple but has worked well for us: I bring breakfast for the team on Mondays and we eat together (laptops down). It allows us to get on the same page and start the week strong.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Tenacity! Early-stage startups are a roller coaster, and it’s critical that each employee we hire shows up every day determined to execute against big ideas and persevere through the inevitable challenges we face as an early-stage company.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Never give up, keep learning, and always be better than you were yesterday.

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