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Cozad winner: ‘Something’s happening right in my life’

CHAMPAIGN — This year’s Cozad New Venture Challenge winner started with an idea he hoped would help his parents out, but has the potential to save businesses millions of dollars.

Advay Gupta’s father works at a big tech company, but his mother isn’t very “technical” at all.

“She asks me how to open Microsoft Word,” Gupta said.

When generative artificial intelligence started picking up steam, his dad talked about how development timelines were getting in the way of this exciting new tech and reducing company efficiency.

His mom just wanted to understand how to use AI beyond playing around with ChatGPT.

“Since childhood, I’ve kind of wanted to build something that bridges non-technical and technical users,” Gupta said. “That gave me an idea to make something that both helps my father and my mother.”

Eight months ago, Gupta started working on a personal project, experimenting with a drag-and-drop system for users to link different generative AI models together to make something that helps their companies.

It’s the same idea that allows a lot of small businesses to make personalized websites; instead of needing to hire someone to code an entire website, you can use a service which offers pre-built modular tools to combine to your liking.

“I showed it to someone here on campus, one of my mentors, and he really liked it. He said that I should make it a company,” Gupta said. “The next week, it was incorporated.”

So Pathlit was born, and the 20-year-old University of Illinois sophomore became a CEO.

Within 40 days, the company had raised its first half a million dollars.

Before long, it was accepted into Google, Amazon and Nvidia’s startup programs, which provide various marketing and educational opportunities.

For Gupta, it feels like “something’s happening right in my life for the first time after a long time.”

“It really felt amazing to know that something I made is something people want and is something people are willing to pay for.”

Gupta estimates that a company will spend $10 million between labor and technology creating its own generative AI program, not to mention spending months making it work as desired and navigating red tape.

Pathlit can cost as little as $5 a month.

Companies wouldn’t need to hire AI experts to use it, so pre-existing tech staff or even people who aren’t very technically inclined could piece together a program, he said.

Gupta said that just about anyone who wants a personalized AI is in Pathlit’s customer base, but they are especially interested in targeting consulting enterprises.

“By going to a big consulting enterprise, we get to see firsthand exactly what industry benefits from AI,” Gupta said. “Today AI is still a buzzword, where everyone is like, ‘AI is really cool, I want to implement it into my organization.’ But does it really help you? Does it really save you money? That’s where I think targeting consulting orgs helps us figure out who to target next.”

The grand prize from the Cozad challenge was $50,000, which Gupta plans to put toward general operational costs, but he felt that the networking opportunity was even more helpful.

This also allowed Pathlit to get two physical office spaces.

“We were kind of using the University Library or my apartment as an office,” Gupta said. “Having a coworking space will definitely help the team’s morale a little.”