With Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Facebook and Slack as partners, AI analytics and security firm expands its reach.

It’s hard to imagine a company more in the right place at the right time than Aware.

Startups’ market opportunities do, of course, change as they mature, but few rocket through revolutions like the shift to remote work in the time of Covid-19.

Aware, which began life as Wiretap, launched in 2017 providing security and regulatory compliance for chat-based collaboration platforms like Slack. But as the company’s artificial intelligence-based technologies attracted clients, they also liked Aware’s ability to analyze network chatter, informing them of internal culture shifts.

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The focus was on compliance tools in the beginning, says Matt Pasternack, Aware’s chief product officer. What large enterprises needed first to use collaboration tools like Slack and Facebook at Work—which many previously did not allow employees to do—were controls, a way to comply with HIPAA or financial regulations, for example. Aware’s products also ferret out sexual harassment and protect corporate intellectual property.

The company counts Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Facebook and Slack as partners, giving it powerful reach. “If not everyone is using it, there’s not a lot of value in analytics,” Pasternack says. Aware’s AI reads large-scale sentiment across platforms, allowing the company to track and respond to employee reactions to events and corporate policies in real time. “The [April 2019] rebrand spoke more to the end vision when we started the company,” says Jeff Schumann, CEO and co-founder. “It covers the risks we mitigate with this data set and the insight we can derive from collaboration tools.”

Then came Covid-19. As the entire global economy shifted to remote work, Aware was ready.

The power of its Spotlight analytics became evident for organizations seeing fear of the virus, and then sometimes of the organization’s own response plans, within their employee base. Aware made the product free through the month of May. It’s one thing, Schumann notes, for an organization to see that there’s more activity on collaboration platforms. It’s another thing to understand what it’s about and whether it’s indicating toxic sentiments.

Schumann says if Aware continues on its present trajectory, the company will grow to more than 100 employees through next year, more than double today’s 40.

Even pre-coronavirus, he says, year-over-year growth since Aware’s launch has been between 100 and 300 percent. The company now serves an impressive list of organizations including GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Sun Life Financial.

Research and advisory firm Gartner named the company a 2018 “Cool Vendor in Unified Communications and Collaboration Technologies.”

“We’re what Gartner refers to as a category buster. We created our own new category, really, focusing on creating insights from this collaboration world and managing risk in it,” says Greg Moran, Aware’s chief operating officer.

Schumann expects the company’s U.S. business to grow—it’s currently about half domestic, half global. “The U.S. has actually been a little behind in terms of collaboration at a large corporate level. Covid-19 rapidly accelerated decisions or reprioritized this tooling for their environments, and I expect more traction than we’ve ever seen,” he says.

Schumann says a fundraising round is in the works. That will involve more support from the Ohio Innovation Fund, which co-led Aware’s series A round in 2017.

Aware is one of the fund’s three largest investments of the 20 in its portfolio, says Bill Baumel, managing director. “It’s one we’re putting quite a bit of horsepower behind, for a couple of reasons,” he says. “The team is a big part of it.”

He says Schumann, who Facebook tried to lure to run its own enterprise technology group, is an impressive and visionary founder who has put together an enviable and passionate team worth betting on. Also, he says, Aware has a market advantage that will be near impossible to catch.

“That AI engine is trained on billions of conversations,” Baumel says. “These inventions are only as good as the data they’re run through and trained on. It would be difficult to catch up in terms of their ability in security compliance.”

Cynthia Bent Findlay is a freelance writer.