A new generation of entrepreneurs: A Reno brother-sister team’s new business is making AI more customized and user-friendly

This month, I am so proud to share a story about a local startup in the hyper-hyped and warp-speed world of artificial intelligence.  

I’m not going all technical on you; I don’t have the brains or qualifications to do so. I’m an AI user, but an amateur user, and I’ve been less than impressed with some of the results from my AI queries.  

One such query: I was trying to verify a stat I saw in a presentation at the Lithuanian Consulate General in New York a couple of weeks ago; I was there to give a presentation myself the next day. I wanted to know if the statistic that only 2 percent of foreign companies are successful in expanding to U.S. markets, as stated by a Lithuanian expat in New York, was accurate. ChatGPT and Google both gave me all kinds of crap that I can’t use, like “agricultural land usage by foreign entities.” Why? I used the word “landed” in my query about how many foreign small/medium-sized enterprises actually land in the U.S. No kidding—these programs went off about land investment by the Chinese and Saudis. 

This month, I’d like you to meet the founders of Forml, the brother-sister team Satchel and Shaine Hirsh, who are building something different than the “generative AI” we’ve heard about and no doubt played with.  

According to Shaine, “Forml is a bit different from ‘generative AI.’ Chat GPT, for example, is a generative AI model. It’s been taught to tell stories, answer questions and basically produce language. Many people with megatons of machine learning expertise and resources had to mess with their data, create this model and teach it do those things. But what if someone who didn’t have all those resources wanted to get the benefits of ML (machine learning), too? That’s what Forml does automatically—it uses your data to create customized models that can solve whatever problem you throw at it. Our whole goal is to let anyone fully understand, analyze and get the most out of their data. We’re commoditizing ML and letting people who otherwise couldn’t reap those cool benefits access them in the best way and easiest way.” 

The startup, launched right here in Reno, has built an ultra-complex tool, but it’s focused on everyday work for research and business needs from the ground up. One example: It has begun meeting the specific needs of the highly regulated banking and financial-technology sectors. 

Satchel and Shaine have connected with impressive early investors who believe in them. They are both University of Nevada, Reno, graduates—applied math/science majors who studied computer science and engineering in different departments with different professers who saw something special in each of them and put them on their research projects.  

Satchel was part of a government funded project, Cerberus, led by Kostas Alexis. The team built an autonomous robot engineered to travel into dangerous spaces for data and retrieval—and won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean (SubT) Challenge competition, beating out prominent research centers at universities such as Stanford.  

Shaine worked in applied math and machine learning under UNR Prof. Emily Hand. Her focus was in computer vision, visualization and facial modeling.  

Both Shaine and Satchel went off to work at startups. She went to work for SpaceX, and he went to Discover and Lendflow, a startup funded by venture-capital firm Y Combinator. This gave them insight into the financial and banking industries’ tech and databases, which were in need of upgrades. When the siblings would catch up, they realized a serious trend in their respective work: Common companies and people (including dumbasses like me) can’t really exploit the true power of AI.  

But what if a company had a generative engine that had all of the AI power, but the database was propagated by a manager or teller at a bank, mortgage company or credit union? It would not spit out some crazy bullshit like Chat GPT is when I want business statistics that I can trust. 

This promise is what Shaine and Satchel are building from scratch. The team has spent a year building the database focused on banking and fintech: They’ve found an industry that is in need of advanced machine learning capability, and regulatory and security management—and the investors agree.  

They built their MVP (minimum viable product) with the financial and advisory help of Jaidev Shergill, managing partner of Capital One Ventures. That’s a pretty impressive early investor—ask any founder. Since September, they’ve focused on the beta rollout from MVP to full productization, with new pre-seed investment by Boost VC. Its principal, Adam Draper, is the son of legendary venture capitalist Tim Draper, who invested is some of the biggest startups of the ’90s and 2000s. 

Shaine and Satchel are building the company and AI at record speed now. They are growing every day, and customers are digging deeper and deeper into the power of their machine. They expect to need another round of cash in the fall to grow the tech team and the customer base. 

For the founders of Forml, Reno/Tahoe is a no-brainer as a place to build their business. They love the Reno area, with all of its support systems for startup founders, university labs for talent, pro-biz government agencies and “can-do” spirit. Then there are the mountains and lakes to play in—it’s all here.  

The Forml team envisions growing the Reno office significantly, even though they spend time in the Bay Area on behalf of their investors. They believe UNR’s computer scientists, mathematicians and business students will be recruits who can build Forml into a dominant player. 

They said they will focus on markets where non-technical business leaders can actually build machine-learning solutions to their own specifications without having to hire or manage brilliant programmers like Shaine and Satchel. These founders are part of the new Nevada where opportunity is everywhere, and all of the pieces needed to grow and thrive are right here, too.  

I will follow this dynamic duo, and you should too. If you are in the banking or fintech industries, you may want to contact them ASAP—but only if you want to be on the leading edge of your industry and in command of the future of your business.