Long before Jake Thiede, ’08, started pursuing the world of artificial intelligence (AI), he sought to learn new marketing skills to maximize opportunities. Gaining a networking nuance through connections with Nebraska faculty, his path led to co-founding InFLOWS AI, a global company empowering the developers of daily-use consumer products with artificial intelligence applications.
“Rob Simon (associate professor of practice in marketing) was my favorite teacher,” said Thiede, who graduated from Nebraska with a marketing major and Spanish minor. “I really enjoyed his classes, but more than that, he takes a genuine interest in students. It was common for us to talk about entrepreneurship after class on a regular basis, and I still call him to this day.”
Those connections in college helped build Thiede’s global network. Whether selling shoes - the import business that he created while at the university to help get through school - or creating AI systems for Fortune 500 companies, Thiede brings his relational strengths to each new challenge.
“Jake is very entrepreneurial and always participated in class based on his experiences,” said Simon. “I was involved with an e-commerce company, and he was really interested in talking about my experiences and getting advice on running and managing a business. I put him in touch with people in the Lincoln and Omaha area who could help.”
Since graduating from Nebraska, Thiede used his connections to gain a greater understanding of emerging technologies. Initially working in sales at a medical device company, he eventually headed their software development operations, which provided a gateway to early AI initiatives.
“I became enamored with AI and building things. This was in 2013, so very early days,” said Thiede, who lives in Austin, Texas, and Oslo, Norway.
As Thiede grasped the possible applications of AI in chemical science, he saw his business ideas become a reality. A partnership formed that led to the creation of InFLOWS AI.
“Everything comes from chemistry, from cosmetics, to textiles, to semiconductors, to pharmaceuticals and food. When looking at the potential impact of operating at the intersection of AI and chemistry, the possibilities are endless. My co-founder and I have worked with the world's largest companies in consumer goods and cosmetics, like L'Oréal and many others,” said Thiede.
Looking at the personal care and cosmetics industry as a prime area for growth, his team developed AI from the ground up to better speak the language of chemicals.
“We have spoken to hundreds of scientists who were saying the same thing. They wanted AI to help them find the right ingredients to use in their products – ones that were better for people, the environment and the organizations,” he said.
Thiede’s partner, Abdou Kane, Ph.D., was the former head of AI for L’Oréal Labs, and led an AI program in research and development, spent more than a year observing what scientists were doing in the lab. Thiede and Kane created AI tools to help automate and accelerate their work.
“In parallel, I was working with top scientists at Fortune 500 CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) companies helping them understand and deploy AI to formulation,” said Thiede. “The problem was there wasn't a system that could use the underlying profiles of ingredients and identify which would be the best to use to achieve certain objectives. I talked to my business partner, and we both wanted to build the same thing, so we teamed up.”
In April, the team launched their first generative AI system named KAI. It allowed them to join forces with a major company in the cosmetics industry.
“We enable manufacturers to rid their products of toxic chemicals by using KAI to pinpoint greener alternatives without compromising on the performance the products are known to deliver. Normally this would take several years, and significant trial and error just to replace one chemical. Using KAI, which is trained on thousands of chemicals, scientific literature, toxicology and ecotoxicology data and persistence studies, they can find bio-based alternatives that are safer, more sustainable and still perform within the specific formula they are working on,” he said.
While in college, Thiede also made connections through involvement in Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the American Marketing Association student chapter. Today he gives back through mentoring current Nebraska Business students, and Simon sees his influence first-hand.
“Jake has worked with several of my students on career opportunities either by phone or meeting with them in person,” said Simon. “His current work sounds like a great opportunity. I do not know a lot about the AI market, but Jake has the motivation and drive, along with the skills, to make it a success. If it was a public company, I would invest in it based on my knowledge of Jake.”
Thiede recognizes many consumers are wary of AI. He chooses to look at the positive applications and work in areas that facilitate the greater good for customers along with the bottom line of businesses.
“The manufacturers aren’t the bad guys, they just need better tools. With InFLOWS, we make it easier to navigate safer, more sustainable ingredients, so better products can make it to the shelves quickly; a win for both the manufacturers and consumers,” said Thiede. “With all the negative press about AI, we are pioneering AI for good.”
Published: October 5, 2023