Winning the Snowflake Startup Challenge can certainly boost a startup’s trajectory — the 2021 winner, Overlay Analytics, can attest to that—but what about the other companies who made the finals? What have Invoke Learning and Elysium Analytics been up to, and did they benefit from their experience as Startup Challenge finalists?
We spoke with Invoke Learning Founder Brendan Aldrich, as well as Elysium CEO Jens Andreassen and Founder and CTO Satish Abburi, to find out. Both companies have been gathering momentum in the seven months since last year’s competition—and have some good advice for any startup entering this year’s Startup Challenge. (Visit www.snowflake.com/startupchallenge to submit your entry!)
First, a little background on each company:
- Invoke Learning is focused on the education industry and aims to improve every part of the student lifecycle, from recruiting to graduation rates, with an AI application that analyzes multiple student data points. Schools can use these insights to provide proactive support and keep students engaged.
- Elysium Analytics is a security analytics platform that provides aggregated views of all activities across an enterprise. Its goal is to provide complete transparency into anomalous and suspicious behavior through the risk-based scoring of event data.
It’s been about 7 months since the 2021 Snowflake Startup Challenge ended. How are things going?
Aldrich: Invoke Learning completed a fantastic 2021 having sextupled the number of colleges with whom we work and septupled our annual recurring revenues. We also closed a seed round of investment, and we are currently deploying the latest generation of our architecture that streamlines both onboarding and support operations while enabling some really exciting new products and services for our higher education partners.
Abburi: At Elysium, we are in the process of ramping up customer engagements and PoC activity and are also getting started on raising a round of funding to build out our go-to-market team. We have built a new data collection self-service engine and vastly simplified the onboarding of cloud platform telemetry to support our goal of providing self-service data collection for the vast majority of data in 2022.
Tell us about your Startup Challenge experience. What was the most challenging or surprising part of the process?
Aldrich: Having the work of a small company like ours recognized by an organization like Snowflake was just a fantastic experience. Making it to the final round gave us a strong marketing boost that helped accelerate new opportunities through the rest of the year. Also, as there is not a lot of time between rounds, it encouraged us to be both creative and dynamic— and what founder doesn’t love that?
Andreassen: Our favorite part of the challenge may have been the chance to do an intense and focused project with the team, to pull everybody together and collaborate for a brief period of time. It also provided a checkpoint to sync up on our strategy and helped us prepare for fundraising.
During the Startup Challenge you went through multiple rounds of pitching your application and company. Did you learn anything from that process that you’ve been able to apply and benefit from post-competition?
Aldrich: Founders are always moving fast and pivoting quickly as we wear a number of hats within our organizations. Sometimes, this can lead to a feeling that there’s just not time to enter a competition like the Snowflake Startup Challenge. As an EdTech, there was also the question as to whether or not the work we were doing would be recognized on a playing field with so many other industries. Having been through the experience, I can now say that the application and pitch process gave us the chance to reflect on how far we’d come and realize the impact we were already having with our college and university partners.
Andreassen: I think it helped us take stock of our strategic direction and refine the messaging. In the early days of developing a solution, getting your key value across concisely is not easy. It was also a good exercise improving our presentation approach.
What advice would you give to a company that’s entering the Startup Challenge?
Aldrich: Founder-led companies can be very personality-driven, and we’ve heard from investors about the level of importance they place on the people leading the charge within a startup. Present your company, product, accomplishments, and impact in a way that really represents who you are. You created your company for a reason … make sure that reason shines as a part of your entry into the Startup Challenge.
Andreassen: Make a focused effort to bring clarity to your strategy and develop a clear message around your value proposition. It will take some time and effort, but remember this is not just for the Challenge—it’s also an important part of going from concept to a successful business.
As Challenge finalists you were able to form a closer relationship with Snowflake. How is your partnership with Snowflake evolving?
Aldrich: Snowflake provides groundbreaking technologies that really create completely new opportunities for startups like Invoke Learning to help shape our industries, so a close partnership is exceptionally valuable to our success. Snowflake has recently created a sales organization focused specifically on the education market, and I am thrilled to share that Invoke Learning is working hand in hand with this team to grow our businesses together.
Abburi: Our relationship with Snowflake has been very productive. Being able to focus on our application rather than the data platform allowed us to develop a far better product at a lower budget than we would with a traditional, vertically integrated approach. We have been collaborating closely with the Snowflake team on the Search Optimization Service, a hugely important initiative for us.
Any predictions for 2022? What tech innovations and industry trends have you most excited?
Aldrich: We’re very excited to see the interest in hybrid data lake/data warehouse approaches. Our InvokeDataLake is this type of solution, and it’s amazing how this is empowering colleges with completely new capabilities that far surpass their traditional data warehouses in a fraction of the time and cost.
Andreassen: I think 2022 will be the year of the “security data lake.” Maintaining an increasing number of legacy data silos is a significant productivity drain on organizations, and it greatly impedes visibility across sources and services.