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Neal Hansch, CEO & Managing Partner of Silicon Foundry – Interview Series




Neal Hansch is the CEO and Managing Partner of Silicon Foundry, a Kearney company, where he leverages over 25 years of venture capital, product management, technology operations, corporate development, and trusted advisory experience to lead the firm.

Prior to joining Silicon Foundry, Neal was Managing Director of the emerging markets technology training, investment, and incubation program at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), where he managed a global team of 150+ professionals, over twenty startup investments, and partnerships with Google, Samsung, and Vodafone.

Neal previously served as a General Partner at Rustic Canyon Partners (RCP), an early-stage focused VC fund with $500MM under management. He also worked in the Corporate Development group at Macromedia (Nasdaq: MACR, acq. by ADBE), where he was responsible for global M&A transactions and strategic equity investments. In this role, he traveled extensively throughout Asia and learned firsthand the challenges and impact of building relationships and executing cross-border transactions.

Silicon Foundry, is an innovation advisory firm, catalyzes opportunities and accelerates change to push the frontier of what’s possible. The firm is dedicated to expanding its network and capabilities to further support the global innovation ecosystem. Corporate leadership teams increasingly seek to tap into this ecosystem for strategic partnerships, investments, and acquisitions.

You’ve been in Silicon Valley for over 25 years, in your opinion what are the unique factors that have positioned San Francisco as a burgeoning AI epicenter?

I think it's many of the same factors that have made Silicon Valley the epicenter for other once new technologies, like the internet and search engines. When we talk about what is happening in San Francisco right now and compare this buzz to the sound of innovation and progress that has constantly permeated through Silicon Valley, it's kinda like déjà vu. Think back to the early days of semiconductors, way back in the 50s and 60s. Talent was the name of the game then, and guess what? It still is now. The city's emergence as an AI epicenter is rooted in its rich reservoir of talent. This critical mass of expertise serves as a foundation for innovation, a phenomenon compounded by the presence of tech giants like Google and Meta (formerly Facebook), with Microsoft also contributing from its nearby base. When talent and innovation converge, vibrant business and tech ecosystems thrive. The nexus of venture funding, rich talent pool, and established incumbents deeply invested in AI fosters an environment ripe for innovation in San Francisco. While AI itself isn't novel, the city's emergence as its epicenter mirrors its historical role in shaping other major platform shifts.

How does Silicon Foundry leverage these regional advantages to benefit its members?

Silicon Foundry is situated in a major innovation hub. We're surrounded by some of the world's most vibrant companies and forward-thinking startups who are on the front lines of change and progress. Our location serves as a natural advantage, and we leverage this advantage by actively curating connections between our members and the foremost innovators in areas where AI intersects with various aspects of their businesses. Whether it's exploring AI's impact on product design, customer support, or other crucial areas, we ensure that our members gain direct access to best-in-class AI applications. Moreover, our physical proximity to these emerging solution providers enhances the efficiency of our matchmaking process. Imagine a scenario where a member visits our headquarters with specific interests in using AI to create a better customer experience. Within a short timeframe, often just hours or days, they can engage in face-to-face interactions with relevant companies, many of which are conveniently located within walking or driving distance from our premises. This seamless connectivity accelerates the pace of collaboration and fosters meaningful partnerships that drive innovation and growth.

Regarding AI as an enabler for extracting insights from data, what challenges do corporations face in data utilization?

A critical challenge for corporations utilizing AI for data analysis is ensuring quality data organization within the company. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out,” highlighting the importance of quality data inputs for effective outcomes. Quality data is like table stakes for implementation. You need to establish a solid data infrastructure that becomes foundational, before fully integrating and leveraging AI applications. 

Silicon Foundry emphasizes strategic partnerships and corporate investments. Can you provide examples of successful partnerships and investments that have accelerated innovation for both startups and corporate members?

One collaboration that comes to mind involves a multinational logistics provider and Fountain, a next-generation recruiting, onboarding, and retention startup. This partnership directly addressed one of the major challenges faced by the logistics giant: the recurring need to hire and retain thousands of employees, particularly during peak seasons like Christmas. By introducing Fountain's innovative solutions, the logistics company revolutionized its recruitment processes, streamlined onboarding, and enhanced employee retention strategies. This not only optimized efficiency but also mitigated the impact of seasonal fluctuations in workforce demand. Without sharing numbers, the impact and results of this collaboration gained company-wide attention, even at the board level. 

What are some of the upcoming trends in AI and emerging technologies that you believe will be crucial for the next decade?

When we look ahead, there are distinct trends both in customer-facing and internal domains. On the customer front, we're witnessing a significant focus on enhancing the digital experience through customization, particularly in brand interactions and customer service. This emphasis on personalized experiences is where AI, particularly Generative AI, is rapidly proving its worth. Internally, within large organizations, there's a growing need for efficient knowledge management. Many companies are already leveraging AI to navigate the vast repositories of insights and content they possess. For instance, consider the scenario faced by a leading global investment banking, securities, and investment management firm. Their use of AI to swiftly address HR queries, such as navigating the complex process of terminating an employee across different jurisdictions, underscores the value of internal AI applications in streamlining processes and improving efficiencies. While it's challenging to predict precisely which areas will dominate over the next decade, the current focus for most Fortune 500 companies is identifying the most compelling applications.

How should companies prepare to integrate these technologies into their strategies?

Beyond the technical aspect of readiness with quality data (addressed previously), there's a strategic standpoint to consider. Companies must deliberate on where to initiate testing and piloting these AI technologies. It involves making informed decisions on which areas of the business could benefit most from integration. This strategic approach requires identifying low-hanging fruit—areas where implementing AI solutions can yield significant impacts, such as enhancing customer service. It's about taking calculated steps, testing the waters, and assessing the effectiveness of these technologies before committing fully. By strategically selecting pilot projects and evaluating their outcomes, companies can gradually scale up their integration efforts, avoiding the temptation to “boil the ocean” and instead focusing on targeted, impactful implementations.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing the AI sector in San Francisco? Conversely, what opportunities do these challenges present for startups and established companies?

One of the biggest challenges is the flood of funding that went into AI companies, much of which was centered in San Francisco, not just Silicon Valley. This surge has led to heightened expectations, but now the challenge lies in moving beyond the hype cycle. Companies must demonstrate tangible efficacy and return on investment (ROI). Essentially, they're at a pivotal juncture where securing customers and generating revenue is imperative for sustainability and growth. 

For established companies, a significant challenge lies in the considerable costs associated with AI implementation. It’s very expensive to run these large, sophisticated models. However, established companies possess a substantial advantage—their troves of data. This abundance of data positions incumbents, even in traditional industries, as formidable players. They hold the golden asset, which, when coupled with AI technology, becomes a potent force for innovation. However, it's necessary for them to ensure the accuracy and reliability of this data, as well as having a sufficient volume to yield meaningful insights. This underscores the central role of data in training models and deriving actionable insights, a challenge that smaller companies often face as they navigate the complexities of acquiring and leveraging data effectively.

How does Silicon Foundry assist its members in navigating the volatile tech market and identifying valuable emerging companies?

We start by understanding our members' needs and parameters and then we map out the landscape of the potential solution providers in those areas. We leverage our expertise to pinpoint the most promising candidates. From there, we assist our members in establishing connections with the leaders of these emerging companies. But our role extends beyond mere introductions. We actively facilitate the ongoing development of relationships between our members and these companies, whether it be fostering customer relationships, forging deeper partnerships, or exploring strategic investment and acquisition opportunities.

Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Silicon Foundry.

A founding partner of unite.AI & a member of the Forbes Technology Council, Antoine is a futurist who is passionate about the future of AI & robotics.

He is also the Founder of, a website that focuses on investing in disruptive technology.