We’re sitting down with RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP) participants to learn their stories, find what inspires them and share with the community.
Acta Solutions is a data analytics solution that uses proprietary NLP software to automate feedback analysis. The co-founding team is made up of a young, talented, three-person dream team: Tai Huynh, Pavani Peri and Andrew McKinnon. They are exceptionally passionate about important issues like affordable housing opportunities and overcoming food insecurity, with Tai serving on Chapel Hill’s town council, Pavani’s history on the Food Security Task Force of Louisville, KY and Andrew’s involvement with various political advocacy groups. We shared a fascinating and fun conversation about what it’s like to turn your passion into a startup.
Q: What does Acta Solutions do in a nutshell?
A: We help mission-aligned organizations better understand the needs and priorities of their constituents or stakeholders using natural language processing.
For example, we worked with the city of Asheville to analyze open-ended question data to try to figure out the barriers their residents face in trying to rent or buy affordable housing in the community. We contracted feedback and input from their qualitative datasets to provide them with usable information.
Q: What inspired you to start this company?
A: Our team is very politically motivated and passionate about progressive issues like affordable housing. We originally started working with local governments because of Tai’s background as an activist and organizer. Both Tai and Pavani had done consulting work for cities and saw consistent issues. There were multiple ways for citizens to engage with their local government, but no capacity for the government to make sense of the data coming back and we wanted to help.
However, we’ve since pivoted to using our solution to benefit progressive political campaigns directly. When Tai decided to run for office as a young progressive candidate, the accepted best practice for political candidates was only to target the most likely voters. Tai was appalled by this methodology, and with the help of Pavani in her role as Policy Director, implemented a very unique campaign for the time. We did a lot of digital outreach, targeted specifically at those who typically didn’t vote. We like to think this was the reason for our marginalized victory.
So we’re familiar with the pain points many or our customers are trying to solve. We understand how difficult it is to motivate people to engage as voters. But we think our tool can help.
Q: What’s your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: We have many. 1)Trying to solve a problem that we’re personally passionate about and that matters. 2) Being able to meet really cool people in the entrepreneurial space who have devoted their lives to experimenting and building things. 3) The freedom – as an entrepreneur you get to decide on the direction of your company and 4) all while getting to work alongside a really incredible team. No matter what happens, we will look back fondly at this time in our lives.
Q: Do you have any mentors or role models who have inspired you while you’ve been building your business?
A: Malcolm X was a major role model growing up for me (Tai).
On a more personal note, there was a woman in Indianapolis that I (Pavani) knew growing up. She was a community activist who ran a local grocery startup for a long time – a focal point for our community and an important resource in a food desert. But when a corporate health foods grocery came to town, her grocery store was outshadowed and she went out of business. Getting to know her was really impactful.
Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs?
A: Most people start a business after they’ve already had a career. But we think the best time is earlier in life – when you don’t have a family, mortgage, or other major financial commitments. We think more people college graduates should pursue entrepreneurship.
A few more pieces of advice… Make sure that your founding team is made up of people that you really enjoy being around outside of a work capacity, because entrepreneurship is an emotional and overall roller coaster and having a support system is so important. Lastly, be flexible! We’ve gone through several major pivots in the lifetime of our business, which were certainly challenging, but ultimately very important to our success.