In August, the young artificial intelligence process automation company Intelenz, Inc. announced its first U.S. patent, an AI-enabled software-as-a-service application for automating repetitive activities, improving process execution, and reducing operating costs. For company co-founder Renzo Zagni, the patent is a powerful testament to the value of his MIT educational experience.
Over the course of his two-decade career at Oracle, Zagni worked his way from database administrator to vice president of Enterprise Applications-IT. After spending seven years in his final role, he was ready to take on a new challenge by starting his own company.
From employee to entrepreneur
Zagni launched Intelenz in 2017 with a goal of keeping his company on the cutting edge. Doing so required that he stay up to date on the latest machine learning knowledge and techniques. At first, that meant exploring new concepts on his own. But to get to the next level, he realized he needed a little more formal education. That’s when he turned to MIT.
“When I discovered that I could take courses at MIT, I thought, ‘What better place to learn about artificial intelligence and machine learning?’” he says. “Access to MIT faculty was something that I simply couldn’t pass up.”
Zagni enrolled in MIT Professional Education’s Professional Certificate Program in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, traveling from California to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend accelerated courses on the MIT campus.
As he continued to build his startup, one key to demystifying machine learning came from MIT Professor Regina Barzilay, a Delta Electronics professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “Professor Barzilay used real-life examples in a way that helped us quickly understand very complex concepts behind machine learning and AI,” Zagni says. “And her passion and vision to use the power of machine learning to help win the fight against cancer was commendable and inspired us all.”
The insights Zagni gained from Barzilay and other machine learning/AI faculty members helped him shape Intelenz’ early products — and continue to influence his company’s product development today — most recently, in his patented technology, the "Service Tickets Early Warning System.” The technology is an important representation of Intelenz’ ability to develop AI models aimed at automating and improving business processes at the enterprise level.
“We had a problem we wanted to solve and knew that artificial intelligence and machine learning could possibly address it. And MIT gave me the tools and the methodologies to translate these needs into a machine learning model that ended up becoming a patent,” Zagni says.
Driving machine learning with innovation
As an entrepreneur looking to push the boundaries of information technology, Zagni wasn’t content to simply use existing solutions; innovation became a key goal very early in the process.
“For professionals like me who work in information technology, innovation and artificial intelligence go hand-in-hand,” Zagni says.
While completing machine learning courses at MIT, Zagni simultaneously enrolled in MIT Professional Education’s Professional Certificate Program in Innovation and Technology. Combining his new AI knowledge with the latest approaches in innovation was a game-changer.
“During my first year with MIT, I was putting together the Intelenz team, hiring developers, and completing designs. What I learned in the innovation courses helped us a lot,” Zagni says. “For instance, Blake Kotelly‘s Mastering Innovation and Design Thinking course made a huge difference in how we develop our solutions and engage our customers. And our customers love the design-thinking approach.”
While his progress at Intelenz is exciting, Zagni is anything but done. As he continues to develop his organization and its AI-enabled offerings, he’s looking ahead to additional opportunities for growth.
“We’re already looking for the next technology that is going to allow us to disrupt the market,” Zagni says. “We’re hearing a lot about quantum computing and other technology innovations. It’s very important for us to stay on top of them if we want to remain competitive.”
He remains committed to lifelong learning, and says he will definitely be looking to future MIT courses — and he recommends other professionals in his field do the same.
“Being part of the MIT ecosystem has really put me ahead of the curve by providing access to the latest information, tools, and methodologies,” Zagni says. “And on top of that, the faculty are very helpful and truly want to see participants succeed.”