EDASC a ‘game changer’ for tech startup

EDASC a ‘game changer’ for tech startup Main Photo

3 Aug 2023

Innovation, entrepreneurship

Skagit County tech startup xBlock is getting noticed for its innovative AI assistant for restaurants. EDASC CEO John Sternlicht recently had the opportunity to sit down with xBlock co-founder and CEO Dena Neek to learn more about the technology, discuss EDASC’s role in helping the business grow, and xBlock’s exciting opportunity as part of the Techstars accelerator program.


Watch John and Dena's conversation.

John Sternlicht: Tell us what your company is, and what you do?
Dena Neek: Eighty percent of the workforce in the U.S. is non-office workers who spend 25% of their time looking for job-related information or take their managers’ time to get their queries answered. This adds up to a full day each week lost in unproductive pursuits. Moreover, with the highest turnover rates in these sectors and businesses struggling with labor shortages, the challenges are bound to persist in the future.

xBlock seamlessly connects to all the technologies businesses use, ranging from team management and operations to accounting, marketing, and POS systems. Leveraging conventional AI and our robust AI model, xBlock makes crucial data, insights, and predictions accessible to both staff and management teams.

The beauty of our AI assistant lies in its simplicity. A whopping 80% of the questions asked are not complicated, eliminating the need for human involvement. Our AI assistant steps up and provides the answers they need, precisely when they need them – it's like having Siri on your phone. And in the rare instance it doesn't have the answer, no worries! It seamlessly connects the team to the right person who can help. It's all about streamlining processes and empowering the workforce to thrive in their roles. With xBlock, the future of workforce efficiency and productivity looks brighter than ever.

xBlock can reduce table turnover by 10% and lower labor costs by 25%, leading to potential annual savings of up to $87,000 for an average restaurant. Impressive, right?

JS: What’s the product called?
DN: Toque. Like a chef’s hat.

JS: Can you give us an example of how it works?
DN: Absolutely! Let me paint a clear picture of how xBlock works with a real-life example.

Imagine you're working in a bustling restaurant where turnover rates are high, and training new staff takes time and resources that many restaurants simply don't have to spare. Traditionally, it might take weeks for a new employee to learn the menu, understand which food pairs best with which wine, grasp allergen information for each dish, or even figure out how the salmon is marinated.

But with xBlock, everything changes. Instead of running back and forth to the kitchen or seeking help from managers, staff members can easily get the answers they need. For instance, if a customer asks how long it will take for a pizza to be ready, the staff can quickly inquire through xBlock. The response might be that it will take 17 minutes, considering the current queue of orders in the kitchen.

Here's another exciting scenario: Suppose the kitchen staff realizes they've run out of avocado. They can promptly ask xBlock to disable all dishes containing avocado for the next two hours, avoiding any inconvenience for customers.

And that's not all. xBlock opens up endless possibilities by revealing hidden data that was previously unclear. Whether it's knowing your next break time or checking if you can adjust tomorrow's schedule, xBlock has got you covered.

In a fast-paced restaurant environment, having this kind of immediate access to crucial information can be a game-changer. With xBlock, a restaurant can run like a well-oiled machine, making tasks easier for everyone involved. 


JS: When did you start this business?
DN: We started our company back in April 2022. It's a real family affair because my husband, Cyrus, is my business partner, and together, we've co-founded multiple businesses over the last two decades. In our entrepreneurial journey, I've taken on the technical aspects, while he's excelled as a product manager. We make a dynamic duo! Interestingly, we tied the knot just six months after launching our first company, and since then, we've also co-created two wonderful human beings together. It's been quite a fulfilling ride.

JS: What kind of support have you gotten from EDASC and from others around the Skagit community?
DN: We've had a great experience with EDASC. They've been instrumental in connecting us with valuable local, state and federal resources. Not only that, but they've also introduced us to other businesses, which has significantly contributed to building a solid pipeline of customers and prospects. Their network is vast, and they have the ability to link us with various organizations and even our senators and representatives. It's been a game-changer for our business!

JS: As a result of all your hard work, you’ve had some good news lately. Why don’t you tell us about that?
DN: We've got some incredible news to share! Our company has been selected to participate in the prestigious Techstars program in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our cohort kicked off in July, and we're beyond thrilled about the three-month journey ahead. Techstars is renowned as the largest startup network worldwide, boasting an impressive lineup of 8,000+ founders, 5,000+ mentors, 300+ corporate partners, and a vast network of investors, with programs spanning 54 cities and 14 countries. Forbes reports that their acceptance rate is an astonishing 1%, making this opportunity all the more special for us. Techstars has a fantastic #givefirst mentality, with everyone in their network committed to helping startups like ours succeed.



Toward the end of the program, we'll have an exciting demo day, where we'll showcase our progress to a network of angels, venture capital firms, and corporate partners associated with Techstars. And here's an inspiring stat – around 90% of their company portfolios receive funding ranging from $1 million to $2 million through this program. It's truly an honor to be part of this incredible initiative, and we can't wait to make the most of this transformative experience!

JS: There’s an amazing percentage of tech companies formed in the United States by immigrants. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s been like as Iranian immigrants?
DN: As Iranian-Americans, Cyrus and I are deeply grateful for the incredible generosity, freedom and bravery we've experienced in the United States. We've been fortunate to come across organizations like EDASC, which not only provides grants but also offers valuable education and expertise to support small businesses and founders.

Joining the Techstars family has reinforced our appreciation for the #givefirst philosophy. We feel truly honored to be part of such a supportive community that believes in paying it forward and giving back.

For a long time, I believed that being an immigrant posed obstacles for me, but I've come to realize that it was just a mindset. In reality, where you were born doesn't define your potential, and it's not a factor in the application forms we fill out.

However, I've also learned that being a female founder can be more challenging. Shockingly, recent data shows that only 2.4% of woman-owned companies receive funding. Despite this obstacle, we are determined to continue pushing forward and making a difference in our industry.

Overall, we feel grateful for the opportunities we've found in the United States and excited to be part of a community that values supporting and uplifting others. We're committed to breaking barriers and making a positive impact, no matter where our journey began. 

JS: What happens after TechStars?
DN: Once our journey with TechStars is complete, we'll be back in Washington, eager to continue building our business.

We're on the lookout for exciting partnerships with restaurants, hotels and hospitality groups that share our vision of creating a sustainable and humane workforce for frontline workers. It's all about coming together and taking a step forward in this important mission.

If you know any organizations or businesses that might be interested in joining forces with us, we'd love to connect and explore how we can make a positive impact together. Let's build a brighter future for frontline workers, hand in hand!

JS: Well, we definitely want you back here in Skagit county when you’re finished.
DN: Absolutely! Skagit County is not just a place on the map; it's where our hearts have found their home.

To get in touch with xBlock, visit xblock.ai.