08/26/2021

Why I moved my startup from California to Michigan: An interview with Prateek Sachdeva, Co-Founder and COO of Invisible AI

Tell us more about Invisible.ai and why you decided to found a tech company?

After college, my now-cofounder Eric Danziger and I were part of a startup building a LIDAR self-driving car with Luminar Technologies. But the future of that product is so far out that it’s boring from a product perspective. You’re creating something that no one is going to touch for a very long time. What we found though is we were doing things that were being built from the ground up, and we left with a couple things in mind. 1) We think that computer vision is the next wave of software and AI that is the most impactful place. Everything else is manipulation of the world, but this is making sense of the world. 2) The biggest problem we saw in self-driving cars is that the whole thing is deep learning. We wanted to build a product that works now and answers any question you have in the moment.

We’re addressing a problem that is solvable today with this approach to a solution. Invisible AI has developed an AI-enabled camera that does everything inside the camera itself. It’s pre-trained to monitor body joints in people. What we did on top is put it in factories. People are the most critical component to companies and factories. This technology helps improve safety and efficiency. For example, if a worker picks up the wrong piece in the factory, the camera would notify them of the error. All that is possible the second the customer gets the camera and plugs it in.

How did being a UMich student and in Ann Arbor help you in the journey?

I’m originally from India, and I moved to Miami, Florida when I was 12 years old in 2006. When I was doing college tours, I found Michigan to be so welcoming – which is a big part of why I’m back here now, too. I did my undergraduate and grad work at Michigan in computer science – and actually dropped out of Michigan for a semester to see if entrepreneurship was my thing. During that time, I got a lot of support from the community, getting exposed to startups from the ground up. And really TechArb and other local resources were a big factor in getting started. There’s a growing entrepreneurship community here in Ann Arbor, connecting me to resources like A2EF, the Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at U-M, and opportunities like trips to the San Francisco area, including exposure to the banks. All of that opened me up to more risk-taking, like co-founding my own startup.

Why did you choose to leave California and move yourself and part of the company operations to Michigan?

With everyone going remote in California due to COVID, we chose to accelerate opening up our Midwest office – especially because flying to customers wasn’t practical. All of our target customers were in the Michigan area. My co-founder Eric also moved and set up shop in Austin, TX. A majority of our team are currently remote, in fact. Selecting Michigan was a pretty easy decision for me. It was an emotional decision to come back to Michigan, but backed up by data.

How has being in Michigan contributed to your team and company growth? 

It’s all been the network that I’ve been exposed to from Day 1. Once I set foot here, I grew into all the networks that are built in a smaller town. The ability to reach out and build connections with other startups and resources is invaluable. Michigan is that manufacturing hub and is trying to recruit companies like Invisible AI. It’s making the industry stronger, and really a no-brainer to continue to build our company here.

You raised your seed funding from some prominent VCs in San Francisco – what was this experience like, and what did your investors say about the move to Michigan?

Everyone was really supportive and not surprised by our moves to Michigan and Austin. There are some advantages to the San Francisco entrepreneurial culture, as it tends to be more aggressive in growth, but one of our VCs actually moved to Austin, too! Pretty much all of our seed funding and intermediary round were raised on Zoom, which I think will continue to be the trend in the future.

What is the single greatest piece of advice you can give to other aspiring Michigan founders?

Take advantage of the resources available, particularly those at U-M and founder networks like A2EF. Everyone here wants to help people succeed.