UTS PhD alumna Dr Chelsea Wise is helping lead a revolution in data and AI. Part of fast-growing AI startup Hyper Anna, she is helping create new ways for businesses to understand and act on data trends.
When Dr Chelsea Wise looks at the growing trend of companies using data to make decisions, she sees an opportunity to merge her two passions - consumer psychology and AI.
As Head of Forward Deployed Data Science at AI startup Hyper Anna, the UTS Business alumna and PhD holder in Marketing, Consumer Behaviour and Choice Modelling is helping officiate the union between the hard, numerical edge of data science and the strategic business requirements of large corporations.
So, who is Anna? She is the product of the startup of the same name - an AI-powered virtual data analyst created just three years ago, which has already found success with large companies, including IAG and Westpac.
In three years, the company has grown from two founders to a team of over 60 employees and has recently gone international; opening offices in Singapore and Hong Kong.
For Chelsea, convenience, a quick response time and the ability to simplify complicated data trends for business leaders keen to understand their market are key to Hyper Anna’s recent success.
“We think of Hyper Anna as part of your team. If you want data and insights about something, you can ask Anna a question and she will give it back to you,” she explains.
“As long as (the platform) sits on top of your data, you can email her or log in and ask a question about your data set. Think Siri and Alexa, but for data.”
With a growing need for companies and their employees to crunch numbers and gain an in-depth understanding of their customers, making data accessible for those without a background in statistics is where Chelsea sees Hyper Anna making a difference to business.
“Sales and marketing people are traditionally not trained in stats or analytics, and many teams don’t have analytics support. They can just ask a question, like: ‘Show me customer segments that are growing or declining.’ Anna will show them a chart, but she’ll also give a description of what that means in simple English,” she says.
Starting out in startups
Despite becoming a key member of a rapidly-growing young tech company, Chelsea originally didn’t see the startup space fitting with her career pathway, acknowledging: “I would have never joined a startup five or 10 years ago. It would’ve been too much of a risk.”
But it was an interest in applying theories in consumer psychology to the real world – in all its unpredictability - that eventually drew her into the orbit of business consultancy and data-driven entrepreneurship, turning a career in startups into something more rewarding than risky.
After completing her UTS PhD and spending several years studying and teaching at the university, a desire to gain experience at the coalface of data analysis sparked Chelsea’s interest in data consultancy.
“I’ve always been fascinated by why consumers make the decisions they do and I’ve always been interested in using data, experiments and research to inform that. After completing my PhD, I realised the biggest missing piece for me is seeing how you can actually apply the theories of consumer psychology to analyse data and analyse people,” she says.
Working first with data consulting giant Quantium, Chelsea discovered a passion for the hands-on, collaborative nature of work in the field of practical consumer psychology.
“I fell in love with this idea that I could work with software engineers, data scientists and people building products. Everyone was your equal and you just contribute to different parts of the solution,” she adds.
Even now, as a member of Hyper Anna’s data delivery team, Chelsea is reluctant to describe herself solely as a data scientist, identifying rather as the connector between customers and data specialists - emphasising the importance of soft communication skills in that process.
“I wouldn’t even call myself a data scientist. I work with the data scientists and the customers in bridging that gap. You need to deal with customers in a certain way, and my soft skills were definitely developed in academia and consultancy.”
Making a difference where you can
Chelsea believes this practice of good communication is at the heart of Hyper Anna’s mission, and says fears that AI will take jobs away from humans should be tempered.
“It’s your professional responsibility to care about how you communicate and deliver. That’s been inherent in our startup since day one. We’re not building a robot where Anna is a virtual human. The machine is never going to replace everything. True insight comes from the individual who has context and experience,” she argues.
Considering her journey from academia to the world of startups, Chelsea’s advice on taking steps in any career path is to follow personal passions where you can make a difference.
“It’s not just about joining a big company or a startup. You need to consider what the problem is that you want to solve that a startup or company is solving and how that relates to what you can contribute.”
For more information on entrepreneurship opportunities for PhD students, visit our Entrepreneurship for Research Students webpage. Also see bootcamps.uts.edu.au for information on entrepreneurial learning programs for research students. To hear more about leading programs for entrepreneurs at UTS, visit UTS Startups.