With businesses everywhere being disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, it seems like a tough time to be an entrepreneur starting a new venture.Yet the co-founders of the Richmond-based startup company Forestry Machine Learning say they are keeping a positive long-term outlook.The startup specializes in helping clients implement a cutting-edge type of artificial intelligence called machine learning to improve their business strategies and operations, and the co-founders say they foresee demand only increasing for that service.
“It is an interesting time to be launching a company,” said David Der, the startup’s CEO. Co-founder Brian Forrester is chief revenue officer.“Overall, I am optimistic,” Der said. “Sure, there might be some setbacks — nobody is really taking in-person meetings right now — but a lot of the value we can deliver can be done virtually anyway.”“Our sales strategy remains the same,” he said. “We are still prospecting and in business development stages, full speed ahead.”Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence that involves using computer algorithms to quickly analyze large amounts of data and learn from it. The tools can be used to make better predictions about how people and systems behave.The Forestry part of the company’s name is a nod to lingo within the artificial intelligence industry.“Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the larger ecosystem around that, is really just coming of age,” said Forrester, who is also co-founder of Workshop Digital, a Richmond-based digital marketing firm where he continues to work.“For the last three or four years, we have had access to more data than we have ever had before,” Forrester said. “Computing power has caught up to be able to process that. A lot of the companies I work with — over 100 companies across the U.S. and Canada — are still trying to figure out how to leverage that data to inform business strategy, reduce risk and increase profitability.”Machine learning can be used to improve financial forecasting, cybersecurity and fraud prevention, among other things, said Der, who brings to the startup a background in computer science.
Der was among a group of co-founders of Notch, a technology consulting company founded in Richmond in 2014 that specialized in data engineering and machine learning. In late 2017, Notch was acquired by financial services giant Capital One Financial Corp.Der said he left Capital One in December after a two-year commitment and started working on creating the new business.“Entrepreneurship is really a passion of mine,” Der said. “In a way, we are picking up the torch where Notch left off two years ago. I also want to bring to the table my experience now from the financial services industry.”While machine learning can be utilized by many organizations, Der said the startup is targeting three primary industries: financial services, health care and digital marketing.The goal of machine learning in digital marketing is to “deliver the right message to the right person through the right medium at the right time,” Der said.Forrester brings deep experience in digital marketing through his company, Digital Workshop.“I have spent 11 years building a company, and we have been fairly successful,” Forrester said. “My role in this company [Forestry] is to build our sales and marketing strategy as we grow and follow David’s lead.”Will Loving and Scott Walker, both with Richmond-based Consult360, also are investing partners in the startup.Forrester said he has experience navigating a startup during a time of economic disruption.“I don’t think the problems that machine learning is trying to solve are going to go away just because of this,” he said, referring to the coronavirus disruptions. “In fact, they are more pervasive now than ever. Leveraging more computing power to tackle bigger problems is not going to go away.”