Using AI to help businesses optimize sales tax refunds


Next in line in our Penn State Startup Week coverage is Saveware, founded by Brady Davidson and Ryan Hokimi. Saveware is an AI-powered software that helps businesses optimize their sales tax refund processes.

Saveware made a significant impact at Startup Week, and has made a significant impact on the Happy Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem overall. During Startup Week, Saveware won $15,000 at the Invent Penn State Inc.U Competition, and also $5,000 in the Happy Valley Venture Capital pitch competition. Saveware is also set to participate in the 13-week Invent Penn State Summer Founders Program, which came with a $15,000 grant.

HappyValley Industry asked Davidson about the startup’s success thus far — and why two Penn State students have a passion for building a startup all about sales tax.

I was seeing how lucrative these refunds were. I was seeing how much money the company I was working for was making, but how the processes were so inefficient. I had to explore a way to make them more efficient.

Tell us a little bit about your and Hokimi’s backgrounds. What led you to creating Saveware? 

I didn't know [Hokimi] until this year. This past summer, I worked as an intern at a sales tax firm in the Harrisburg area. I was doing a lot of the same stuff every day, and thought what I was doing was a little bit outdated. With the implementation of some modern technology, it could be a lot more efficient. I came back to school with the idea of creating a computer program that could do what I was doing as an intern at this tax firm. I contacted Ryan, who was an executive for a big artificial intelligence club on campus. I have no technical skills and I was looking for someone who could program…

He allowed me to enter a club competition they had, a Shark Tank-themed pitch competition, back in the fall. I ended up winning it with the idea of Saveware, with no progress [on it] at the time. Then, Ryan liked [the idea] so much that he…joined the team. I was more than willing to accept him. We’ve hit it off ever since. He has a lot of experience building AI products and has worked for a Y Combinator-backed startup, the biggest tech accelerator program in the world, basically. That’s how it all started.

How did you end up participating in Inc.U and the Happy Valley Venture Capital pitch competition?

Going to Penn State and being in the Innovation Hub building, everyone knows about Startup Week. We see all the posters, all the flyers, all the promotional media. We knew that there was serious money at stake. It could really accelerate us and keep us afloat…We were jumping at the bit to enter these competitions.

I remember [Hokimi] and I worked for probably a week on just a three-minute video to submit, to try to get into Inc.U. It could’ve been the biggest waste of time ever. But, we ended up getting in. We were so happy.

The day before the actual competition, we had to do a dry run. All the teams went up on stage and presented without an audience, to make sure all the technology was working, like our slide decks. [Hokimi] and I had a moment where we looked at each other, where, even if we won $0, we were really glad we did this… It put some pressure on us to work a little bit harder. One of our big selling points was that we had three paying clients. We showed real momentum. I think it made a difference in terms of the judge's decisions for us.

It sounds like this has been a lot of work thus far. Why is this something you care about — sales tax refunds?

It's not like I'm extremely interested in sales tax. I'm not captivated by the world of sales tax. However, working at my internship, there were parts that I liked. Obviously, I didn't hate the job — but I hated how inefficient I felt my work was. I would be going through physical stacks of paper invoices, one by one, thousands of them, one at a time, analyzing them.

I just didn't think… this was the right way to do it. I don't think there needs to be a person actually doing this work. I was seeing how lucrative these refunds were. I was seeing how much money the company I was working for was making, but how the processes were so inefficient. I had to explore a way to make them more efficient.

There’s a lot of controversy around AI right now. Why is Saveware a perfect example of how to use AI?

We’ve gotten this question a fair amount. There are two ways I'll answer this.

The first is, we’re putting money back in the business owners’ pockets. A lot of the people go after the fact that, oh, AI is eliminating jobs — but the way we see it is, with smaller companies, the refunds aren't going to be as large, but if we are able to get a small chain pizza shop a couple thousand dollars, and that's the difference between them having to shut down and them being able to operate for another year, that's amazing. That’s a great thing that we think we're going to be able to do in the next couple of months and years.

The other side is, for the accountants that Saveware would be “replacing,” this isn’t, for the most part, their entire jobs. This isn't something that they go into work every day and do. This is a menial task that they're forced to do on the side, that they're not looking forward to. If we can speed that process up and get them back to doing the more important work that is actually a good use of their time, we think that's a perfect place to fit into the market.

Stay tuned for more coverage of this year’s groundbreaking Startup Week innovators and changemakers!


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