Q&A: Entrepreneurship Expert Weighs in on Artificial Intelligence
Professionals, artists, researchers and students alike are all finding ways to put recently developed artificial intelligence tools to use. For Joshua Ross, director of Entrepreneurship@DU and teaching assistant professor in the Daniels College of Business, AI creates exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs to launch new business ventures.
With the right combination of tools, Ross says, you can start a new business in almost no time at all. In a Jan. 25 workshop called Spin Up A Business In 2 Hours With AI, Ross is offering students, faculty, staff and alumni an opportunity to explore ways they can leverage AI to speed up the process of building a brand, generating leads and interacting with customers. Ross will also host the workshop in the spring.
In an interview with the DU Newsroom, Ross offered insights into AI’s impact on entrepreneurship. This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Why are recent developments in artificial intelligence important for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
The commercialization of artificial intelligence, particularly using web-based tools, has presented entrepreneurs with a remarkable opportunity to develop and execute ideas quickly and cost effectively. Entrepreneurs are increasingly using AI tools to automate various tasks and customer service for their clients, gain deeper insights from data, and uncover trends and patterns within their industries. This utilization of AI tools in identifying market demand and understanding customer behavior serves as a catalyst for data-driven decision-making, removing a reliance on instinct or intuition. Consequently, this strategic shift not only mitigates potential risks but also facilitates well-informed business decisions, ultimately leading to enhanced outcomes and competitiveness in the market.
The most widely known AI tools are generative AI, like ChatGPT or DALL-E. Are there any other AI-powered technologies that you foresee having—or are already having—major impacts on entrepreneurship?
New AI tools are showing up in the market every day. If you're just starting a business, you can create a brand really quickly. For instance, Namelix helps you come up with a business name in minutes, Looka can design a logo, and Durable can build a website in just 30 seconds. Then, there's Conversica, which can assist in generating leads by talking to potential customers through email, text messages and chat, knowing the right things to say and when to say them. Ada is an AI chatbot that's great for handling customer support and questions. These tools make it easier for people who want to start their own businesses.
How are generative AI tools changing the process of developing, launching and growing a business?
It depends on what kind of business you're in and what industry you're working in. For instance, if you're starting a service-based business that sells directly to consumers, you can speed up the time it takes to get your business up and running a lot with the help of generative AI tools. These tools can give you a business idea, suggest what services to offer, tell you who your customers should be, how big the market is and who your competitors are—all in less than an hour, if you ask the right questions and design good prompts. Generative AI has replaced traditional web searches for insight and strategy.
What unique challenges do entrepreneurs face when using artificial intelligence? What unique opportunities present themselves?
My concern with using artificial intelligence, specifically generative AI, is trusting the data. Is the data correct, is there bias in the data, is it authentic and credible? Entrepreneurs also face technical challenges. Do they understand the technology, how to use the technology, are they aware of both the opportunities and limitations with artificial intelligence?
AI presents opportunities for entrepreneurs to leverage the technology within their business or to develop an artificial intelligence-focused business. One area with tremendous opportunity is education. AI can provide tutoring and mentoring. AI can be trained to grade and to provide meaningful feedback. It can create content such as lesson plans, exams and case studies. It can develop curriculum and learning outcomes based on industry requirements and needs.
Over the next five or so years, do you see artificial intelligence tools becoming as commonplace as tools like Microsoft Office in today’s business world?
Yes, 100%. This is why we teach the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our Introduction to Business class at DU. Students need to understand these technologies—AI, IoT, blockchain, extended reality, autonomous vehicles—and to be able to articulate how they work, why they are important, and to identify ways to use these technologies to solve problems. I believe Microsoft Office skills for recent graduates is table stakes over the next five years.
What are the implications of AI becoming commonplace for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow?
In 2005, pre-cloud, it was incredibly expensive to start a web-based business. If you had an idea and wanted to build a prototype, the cost was prohibitive—depending on the requirements, it could cost between $50K-$100K before the first line of code was written. Cloud technologies, with a usage-based, pay-as-you-go model destroyed these barriers to entry. Now, anyone can test an idea and start a business for a relatively low cost. Artificial intelligence has accelerated this 100 times; the pace of innovation over the next five years is going to be impressive albeit unnerving. At the moment, there are no guard rails, and the only limitation is what the brain can envision, which is frightening—there is no limitation to what AI can comprehend and create.
How can someone spin up a business in just two hours?
Seriously, be curious and engage a beginner mindset—be open to new ideas, forget how things are supposed to work, accept you will not always get it right, and try new things. Lock yourself in a room, turn off your phone and spend a day exploring AI tools. Most are freely available on the web. Give yourself the freedom to explore and to go down rabbit holes, the technology will begin to make sense.