2022 Vogt Awards Recipient Profile: Xena Intelligence

When Founder Akhil Suresh Nair applied for the Vogt Awards in 2022, Xena Intelligence had only a few paying customers. The company’s product, an AI-powered growth platform that helps brands grow on e-commerce sites like Amazon and Walmart, was early in its development phase.

“We knew we had a good product, we knew people were willing to pay for it, but we were not advanced enough to know what the next steps forward should be,” he says.

The Vogt Award program’s support, connections, and $25,000 grant have been instrumental in elevating Akhil’s business and positioning it for significant growth and success over the past year.

The company recently closed a $2 million pre-seed funding round. Customers now include more than 50 brands, four of which are Fortune 500 companies. Xena Intelligence has a team of 25 all over the world and will soon make its first key sales hire.

Funding plus equity

Back in early 2022, Akhil had just moved to Louisville as per the conditions of the Render Capital Competition, so he already knew firsthand the benefits of startup accelerator programs. He was encouraged by previous Render winners to apply for the Vogt Awards. He soon learned what sets it apart from other programs.

First and foremost, “I can’t imagine a better way to connect with as many people who are involved in the local entrepreneurial community than being part of the Vogt Awards,” Akhil says.

Of course, one of the most attractive aspects of the program is its non-dilutive — meaning nonrestricted — grant funding.

“It’s next to impossible to get grants or other funding without either giving up equity or accepting some kind of service,” Akhil says. “That’s what makes the Vogt Awards unique. It gave us the flexibility in terms of what we could do — we could in invest in advertising, or in acquiring more customers, or in interns to help us.”

Xena Intelligence invested the entire amount into customer acquisition tactics, which have more than paid off. “The $25,000 opened up a lot of possibilities for us,” Akhil says. “It was money well spent.”

An entry to the ecosystem

While the grant funding helped bring in new customers, even more significant for Xena Intelligence’s growth have been the connections Akhil and his team made during the 10-week accelerator.

During the program’s weekly meetings, Akhil was introduced to and learned from some of the most influential people in Louisville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “The networking and mentorship were invaluable — even more than the money!” he says. Without the access provided by the Vogt Awards, “it would be near impossible to meet these people.”

The program culminates in pitch presentations on Demo Day, which Akhil says was also “a big deal for us, not to mention the media presence that came along with it. The event was recorded, and it made a huge splash for me, especially on social media.”

Increasing access

Akhil adds that his participation in the Vogt Awards gave him an advantage when it came to being accepted into TechStars New York 2022. “I was rejected quite a few times before that. The Vogt Awards definitely, definitely helped my cause because it gave our whole startup more validity.”

Speaking of validation, as a person of color, he appreciates the focus the Vogt Awards puts on providing equitable access to capital.

“Looking at my fellow startups who were selected, it gave me a unique perspective on each of their backgrounds,” Akhil says. “Everyone had their own challenges, and it was quite heartening to see what everyone overcame to reach where they are. And the opportunity that we received as a result of this, I don’t we would’ve received it anywhere else.”

Akhil can’t say enough good things about the Vogt Awards, and he is still reaping the rewards of the program today. When asked why he would encourage other early-stage founders to apply, Akhil says, simply: “It will change the life of your startup. It will almost guarantee your success because the program will introduce you to every single person in this region who can possibly help you out. In fact, it might be the only way to do that.”

Don’t miss your chance to apply by May 30! Visit vogtawards.com.