By Avery Guest
Tamara Zubatiy, CEO and co-founder of Barometer (formally VeriCrypt) hopes to help organizations better measure biases on their content via artificial intelligence. The startup’s tool is designed to analyze content for bias and other key attributes that may be manipulative or misleading.
Zubatiy graduated in 2018 from UC San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science, specializing in machine learning and neural computation. Following graduation, she decided to pursue a doctorate of philosophy with a specialization in human centered computing at Georgia Tech, where she currently studies. While at UCSD, she attended the Absolute Sum hackathon, where the first steps towards founding Barometer were taken. With the help of The Basement, an idea became a minimum valuable product, and eventually, a company. Later at Georgia Tech, the team participated in the GT CREATE-X Accelerator, where they refined their B2B concept and conducted initial customer discovery.
We connected with Zubatiy to further discuss her early journey as an entrepreneur among the tides in the San Diego tech ecosystem.
Year Founded: 2018
Key Players: Tamara Zubatiy (CEO and Co-Founder), Grant Nelson (CTO and Co-Founder), James Conway (Engineer)
Headquarters: Atlanta, Georgia
Technology: Barometer is a B2B, AI-based software solution that uses machine learning to score bias in digital news, marketing copy, incident reports, and other text content, where cognitive biases can manipulate or misinform readers and analysts. Like a nutrition label for text, Barometer provides informative metrics such as degrees of language formality, editorial bias, sensationalism, and more.
“We built Barometer to empower organizations to be more aware of their biases,” Zubatiy said. “There has been an increased awareness of diverse audiences, so it pays to understand your own biases as a business and also the way in which your content relates to your clients.”
Market Potential: Zubatiy thinks that “making sure that organizations have the most metadata to understand the information they have is where the future is heading.”
There is an exponential increase in the information we have access to, and she thinks that one day people will only read information if it has been pre-screened.
According to Apium Hub, “The current fake news market is currently fluctuating between 70.8 thousand and 118 thousand clicks per month on Google Search and has over 250,000 mentions on Twitter per month. In a recent poll, it was estimated that 64% of the people interviewed said that fake news caused ‘a great deal of confusion.’”
The AI space, which was valued at $21.46 billion in 2018, is projected to grow to $190.6 billion by 2025, according to Markets and Markets. The importance of “fake news” regulation, coupled with the growing AI market, equate to a strong opportunity for Barometer’s growth.
“This is a growing problem that represents a huge monetary opportunity,” Zubatiy said.
Inspiration: As a cognitive science major with a computation specialization, Zubati has always been fascinated by artificial intelligence. The idea for Barometer was born at the Absolute Sum Hackathon at UCSD, and while the original idea has been modified a few times since, the connection to AI has maintained its strong hold.
Challenges: Initially, one of Zubatiy’s challenges was pitching the technology as a B2C product, selling directly to everyday consumers, despite it having enterprise-level potential. After receiving ample feedback, the startup team decided to pivot to a B2B platform, selling the technology to larger businesses to vet content before making business decisions. From here, the teamhad to alter the AI’s pattern recognition, essentially re-building the platform.
The specificity that Barometer provides is a large differentiating factor, and quintessential to its success, Zubati said.
Funding: Barometer received its first funds when winning $5,000 at Triton Entrepreneur Night 2019. The team used these funds to alter the startup’s technology from a B2C to a B2B. Later that year, they participated in Georgia Tech CREATE-X where they met and became venture-backed by Outlander Labs and two angel investors – Christopher Klaus and one other. The fresh funds are being used to pay the co-founding team and engineers who had been working without pay since the company’s founding. Barometer hopes to raise a pre-seed round of $1-to-2 million soon.
Zubatiy recently participated in an Outlander Demo Day Pitch, further detailing her startup’s technology, as well as the market need and opportunities.
Mentors: Zubatiy thanks her “SD fam,” which include Amber Brandner (coordinated the Absolute Sum Hackathon), Victoria Cajipe, Christine Liou, Gloria Nagette, Eric Gasser, and the entire Basement team. She also thanks her Atlanta fam: Leura Craig (an overall powerful business woman), Omar Balkissoon (founder of an amazing intelligence company and VC), Deanna Brown, and their remote members. She also talked about how much of a role CreateX played in the company’s development by providing additional mentorship.
On the Horizon: In addition to hiring, Barometer’s engineers have been refining and selling the B2B model since November 2020, committing to 14 pilots so far. The prototype is being built out and will roll out once it is validated. They are “selling first, and building after,” Zubatiy said.
Barometer’s API business model will function with tier-pricing, based on the number of pieces scored each month.
San Diego Tech Ecosystem: While Barometer is no longer based in San Diego, Zubatiy thanks The Basement at UCSD for its substantial contributions to the company. It was at The Basement where the team built and tested its first prototypes, learned about customer discovery and most importantly, pitch feedback.
Zubatiy said she “caught the entrepreneurial bug” while at UCSD, adding that the university offers a lot of resources for startups, despite being a research-focused campus.
“I also value the mindfulness, ingenuity and self-reflection that are foundational to the San Diego tech ecosystem,” she said.
Tacos: Trilogy Sanctuary in La Jolla
Editor’s Note: TritonTech is an original series on UC San Diego created by Fresh Brewed Tech that showcases the innovative ideas born in the halls of academia that are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond.