Today we’d like to introduce you to Benjamin Harvey .
Hi Benjamin, can you introduce yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.
I currently serve as the founder and CEO of AI Squared; a DC tech startup focused on accelerating and simplifying AI integration into existing applications. I previously served as a lead Data Scientist and Solutions Architect with Databricks, a silicon valley startup where I honed my skills as an entrepreneur before starting my own company. I’m also a research professor at George Washington University (GWU) and Bowie State University (BSU). I joined the National Security Agency in 2009 and worked there for nearly a decade, where my final position was the Chief of Operations Data Science. I was hired into the Cryptologic Computer Science Develop Program (CDP), graduated from the CDP in 2012, and was the first African American to be accepted and finish the program. I was a research fellow at Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) in the Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) program in 2008. I was a Post-Graduate Research-Fellow with i2b2, National Center for Biomedical Computing, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Children’s Hospital Boston Informatics Program (CHIP) with an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School. I graduated from Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) in 2008 with a BS in Computer Science focused on Pre-Medicine. I received a Master of Science in Computer Science from Bowie State University in 2011 and a Doctor of Science in Computer Science from Bowie State University (BSU) in 2015. I was also appointed to Research Faculty at Johns Hopkins University in the Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Biostatistics Department supporting the Data Science Lab and was the department’s first African American faculty member.
You wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been smooth?
In my life, I’ve had several inflection points where I’ve had to overcome incredible odds to be where I am today. Here are those inflection points and the lessons learned from each. Focus and get it done – I applied to over 100 internships to get into Harvard/MIT Health and Science Technology (HST) during my senior year. This was the first time I saw that I could become a doctor when surrounded by so many top medical health professionals and researchers.
Where focus goes, energy flows. Stop waiting until you feel like it. You are more focused on the risk than the reward. The prize goes to the hardest worker in the room. How hard do you want this? Manifest your future. Everything changes when you are willing to tolerate no longer where you are. You have to make up your mind. Enough is enough, and I am getting out of this place. Are you willing to sacrifice? Are you ready to put in the work? You will have to eliminate all distractions and put your blinders on. When you first get started, you will be alone. When life knocks you down, you must be willing to hit back. All you have is all you need.
NO QUIT MENTALITY – I slept for 2 hours a night while studying for my Ph.D. program exams and doing my dissertation. You may be average or ordinary, but you can make extraordinary decisions daily.
What you do today will determine your future. The future is costly. Your daily decisions, habits, programming, and how you think, walk, and talk. Sleep that you have to lose, multiple jobs you have to work, Hours on end of studying, and beating on your craft every single day are necessary for success. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Some nights you may cry to sleep, and some days you will want to throw in the towel. But your future self will thank you. You have to clarify who you believe you’ve been destined to be. What is your life’s purpose? What is your destiny? Why on earth are you here? What can you do today to get closer to the manifestation of the future? Remember why you are doing what you are doing. You are special and designed to change the world—the moment you discover why you are here, spend the rest of your life executing. Push through the pain, push through the anguish. It’s the no-quit mentality. Analyze everyone in your life. Are they assets or liabilities? Learn how to execute the day. Conquer the Day! You will only sometimes feel like doing what you are designed to do. The future takes time to manifest and to manifest that specific future; you will have to acquire different skills.
CHOOSE YOUR HARD – I realized that I was unhappy, I was not fulfilling my purpose, I was not pursuing what I was passionate about, and I was working 12-hour days in a job that was not in line with my future goals. So I decided to choose a different direction that would align with my passion and purpose.
It’s hard to be broke, it’s hard to be sick, it’s hard to be healthy, it’s to be financially well off, but you have to Decide to choose your hard. It’s hard to practice perseverance, it’s hard to set goals, and it’s hard to wake up early. There is always either a reward or regret attached to every decision you make. It’s a reward on the other side of one pain, and its regret on the other side of the other pain. I want the pain of finishing something, the pain of growth, the pain of time management, and the pain of praying when I didn’t feel like it. Because, on the other side, those pains are a reward. Turn your pain into progress and power. Most people fail to realize that pain is inevitable; whatever you have been destined to become, you will not attain it without pain.
Everyday mentality: When I started my company AI Squared, I worked multiple jobs, taking care of 2 kids during the pandemic as my wife worked as a pharmacist as an essential employee.
You have allowed your dream to take a back seat because of your excuses. When will you see your purpose bigger than your excuse? People that make excuses are not connected to their destiny. You have to keep a no-excuse mentality. You may have to work 3 jobs, go to college, and work a side hustle. We are generationally programmed for convivence, and that’s why we make excuses. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Kill the comparison game. We are afraid it will not be enough if we give our best.
Hustlers mindset: When I left the National Security Agency after working there for 10 years, I took a huge risk to start a company. I emptied my retirement, built a team that believed in my vision, believed in myself, and went on a journey to fulfill my purpose.
Hustling is a mentality. It’s a code of conduct. How can this challenge be an opportunity, and how can I learn? The hustler thinks differently. All roads lead back to the mentality. You have to prepare your mindset for the workload. You cannot be afraid to learn. A hustler is committed and consistent; It’s not a Monday-Friday thing. It’s a Monday-Monday thing every day; I’m beating on my craft. The hustler says the only person I’m competing with is the person I was yesterday. The hustler says that I don’t have a second to waste. The hustler does not waste time. The hustler knows how to prioritize his time. The hustler knows how to lock in.
Whatever it is that you are setting out to do is going to take a different version of yourself. To manifest in your hands what you have in your head, you must have the courage, confidence, self-belief, and self-determination to go out every single day and make it happen. Every day somebody is doing something you are unwilling to do to secure the future. You need an army to meet your destiny, so you have to be connected and grow your network. Note-takers are the money makers. Hustlers take notes. Put me in a room full of people. I’m going to take more notes; I’m going to listen more carefully than everyone else. The hustler is going to outwork everyone in the room.
WORK HARD IN SILENCE: Everyone won’t believe in your dream. When I was working tirelessly on AI Squared with no true light at the end of the tunnel, it came the point in time when we ran out of money, and our backs were against the wall. I didn’t quite reach into my network, pick up the phone, and call every influential person I knew for help.
Sometimes you have to disappear, put the work in, come back and shock the world. Everyone doubted you. You may have to sleep in your car, go without food, or sleep on couches, but when no one understands the measure of passion you have, you can keep going. We have a passion for being in the public eye but need more patience to put in the work behind the scenes. You must be willing to eliminate distractions.
Please tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others.
I’m passionate about the inequalities in the Venture Capital space. In your seed round, “problem-solution” fit is the first major milestone of a startup where an initial customer has installed your solution to solve a specific problem and has validated your value proposition. Nearly 80 percent of unicorns had at least one co-founder who had previously founded a company of some sort (https://medium.com/startupsoft/why-vcs-almost-blindly-invest-in-founders-with-previous-exits-23824334a260). This means founders of companies that become Unicorns not only have the knowledge and experience, but they also have networks of champions (e.g., technical executives) within enterprise organizations that know and trust them because of previous startups. With just 1% of venture-backed startups having a black founder, we rarely enter a startup venture with experience, prior knowledge, or a network of connections. This makes it even more challenging to achieve. This first major milestone of problem-solution fit and progress to Unicorn status because the “initial customer” is usually a technical executive that is a champion because they believe in you and is willing to put their name on the line to allow you to prove value. Nearly 80% of companies at the seed round fail to raise series A funding, and this is because they have yet to prove they have a true problem-solution fit. Still, unfortunately, the opportunity to prove problem-solution fit will be ultimately provided by a champion because your company needs validation, customer success stories, or traction. Therefore, as black founders who are learning this complex environment for the first time. We need to build networks of technical executive communities that will act as our lifeline during the early stages of a startup and provide opportunities to increase the number of 2nd-time black founders that will ultimately open doors for the next generation of black founders. AI Squared raised close to $10 million in our seed round at close to a 50 million valuation. Now in our series A, we will be looking to raise $50+ million at over a 500 million dollar valuation, and this will be a fantastic feat for an African American founder. At JHU, I created the COVID-19 risk calculator over 2 million Americans used to assess their risk of attaining COVID-19 pre- and post-vaccination, which I also published in Nature Medicine and Nature Genomics.
We love to hear about your fond memories of growing up.
I came from a background where it was all about surviving one day at a time. Most folks from backgrounds like mine end up in jail, dead. I never had the opportunity to even dream of being a unicorn 🦄 founder because it was a level of dreaming I had to do to get here. First, I just wanted to make it past 18, then I dreamed of a college degree, then I dreamed of a Ph.D. I dreamed of being a tech exec (I made it to the chief of Operations Data Science at NSA), then I dreamed of being a professor. I dreamed of my successful startup, and now I dream about being a Unicorn, providing access to the next generation of black founders, and ultimately creating a black VC organization. My dreams were so limited early on, and it was only by the grace of God that I always wanted more for my life, and I was put in the right situation to learn about these amazing opportunities in the startup space. Out of everything I’ve ever done, this is the first time I’ve felt free to create, harness my ambition, and control my own destiny within the larger plan God has for my life. So I want to show the younger black generation that your dreams shouldn’t be limited to your current limited view of success, and you have to always reach for greater and don’t settle. Because I was constantly scolded for being ambitious, I did not feel free to create and harness my ambition until I got to this final level of dreaming, where I was an entrepreneur. So I want to share what I was able to discover and let those who are out there that have the unlimited ambition to reach new heights want to be free to create and control their destiny. They have seemed to hit a glass ceiling that the startup journey may be for you, and I have the blueprint for success that I’d love to share.