Areto Labs is on a mission to make digital communities more positive and inclusive. During the 2019 provincial election, you may have come across positive tweets sent by ParityBOT, a bot developed by Areto Labs who’s artificial intelligence detected abusive tweets sent to a woman candidate, and responded with positive tweets.
Tell us in one sentence – who are you, and how does your company innovate?
My name is Lana Cuthbertson, and I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of Areto Labs. We sell machine learning-based software to companies to help them protect their employees that work in social media and might suffer from online toxicity and abuse. We innovate by continuing to think about how we can solve this problem with the latest technologies available and by talking to our customers, iterating based on some of their feedback. We also innovate by hiring really awesome people and helping them unleash their creativity. It’s a mixing pot of different ideas.
What is unique about your business?
We are three women Co-Founders, first of all, that’s pretty rare in the tech startup world. We’re based in Edmonton, as a machine learning startup taking advantage of some of the expertise that’s based in the city.
At what point did you identify or realize the problem that your company currently solves?
I was volunteering in the world of gender equality and politics for a number of years, it’s been a passion of mine for a very long time. We were talking to women about running for office, having coffee with them a few mornings a week at District Coffee Shop in downtown Edmonton. In 2012, it was conversations about, “I’m not sure if I can compete on fundraising, that’s my biggest barrier”. In 2017, it started to become, “I’m really worried about social media and the online toxic toxicity and abuse that people experience”. At the same time, I was personally working at a bank, in the product and tech space where they were learning a lot more about machine learning and software development. I kind of combined that insight with that type of access to technology and came up with Areto Labs.
What inspired you to become a problem-solver and start your business?
The inspiration for becoming a problem solver and starting Areto Labs was really out of that passion for gender equality, and out of the deep interest and satisfaction I got out of my work in tech. As for starting my own business, I love leadership, and solving the problems of it. It was kind of a nice finding for me personally, to realize how much I loved being a founder and an entrepreneur. That’s what keeps me going.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of our team, for sure, and my Co-Founders and everything we’ve been able to accomplish to date. I mean, it could all explode tomorrow and I’d be so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. As well as hopefully starting to, with our products and customers, make a difference in their lives and in the world with what we’re trying to do.
Share some key milestones/updates on your startup within the last year.
We raised a million-dollar pre-seed round. Yay! We’ve also been fairly consistently meeting our customer acquisition goals, which we’re really proud of. We’ve created an MVP product experience for our Areto product. We’ve also grown our team to 10 people to date, so we’re excited about that.
Edmonton has a unique opportunity, both locally and globally. The potential is limitless! What does it mean to you to contribute to Edmonton’s innovation identity, and help position our city as an inclusive global innovation capital?
Mostly, I think it’s about what Edmonton can uniquely contribute, while also fitting into what’s going on in the world. There’s a real humility in Edmonton, there’s an underdog mentality. And there’s also a real sense of community and working together, which is quite special. If we can build in those pieces of the city’s identity into how we contribute to the world, I think we can really bring something as a collective that’s very, very positive to everybody else, and teach them how we how we do things the right way.
I also think Edmonton being the capital of Alberta and our energy transition, there’s such an interesting metaphor there. That there’s so much opportunity to take advantage of and if we can harness some leadership in taking the idea of moving into what a future energy looks like, there’s just endless potential there. It’s going to take courage and bravery, which Edmonton also has so that’s good. There’s lots of exciting opportunities there.
How does Edmonton Unlimited resonate with you? What does this mean to you?
It’s like a tease almost or a provocation. Can we really live up to that? It’s a challenge, I think, to all of us who contribute to the city and bring to life what its potential is. It’s also a nice call to action, which I really like.
Why is Edmonton the place to take your ideas to the next level? What made you decide to establish yourself here?
There’s just lots of resources in Edmonton so let’s use them now, that’s the first thing. Edmonton is also where I’m from, where I went to school and where I grew up. It’s also where I’ve gained so much support and so much encouragement. If we can build our company there and give back to the city by doing that, then I’ll maybe just begin to repay some of what the city and the province has given to me to help me get to where I am and to help Areto Labs get to where it is. There wasn’t really a question of doing it anywhere else.
How have you been involved with Edmonton Unlimited? How have they helped your company/idea grow?
I’m on the Innovation Growth Council at Edmonton Unlimited and I’ve have been following what’s been going on with the organization since the refresh a few years ago. I really believe in the wonderful leadership and the team that’s building Edmonton Unlimited and the ideas that are coming to the table. They’ve helped us grow through intangible encouragement, and very tangible opportunities through accelerator programs and support and coaching programs. Those have all been critical to our growth.
How can people get involved or support your business?
Buy our software or introduce us to someone who wants to buy it. We are working with organizations who have employees that have to do some work on social media and maybe represent their own brand, or personality. We can help and we’d love to work with people who want to work with us and help us grow our offering and give us feedback.
What advice would you give someone trying to become an entrepreneur or looking to solve a problem?
Just start! Someone gave me that advice way at the beginning. She’s an entrepreneur herself in a well-established family business in Edmonton. She said, it’s not going to get going until you get started. It also helps to start immediately accessing some of the support programs that are available. Once you’ve signed up for a program or maybe received an early-stage grant of some kind, it gives you a really good reason to keep going for those first few months. Then you kind of leapfrog your way through. That was really helpful for us.
What can we look forward to from your company?
You can look forward to growth from our company, and hopefully lots of global impact. We immediately started working with organizations around the world and hope to in that way also put Edmonton on the map.
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