Get Smart(y): Alum using artificial intelligence to streamline our daily lives

This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Harker Magazine. It is also available to read on issuu.

When Denzil (Sikka) Eden ’09 signed up for a summer Algebra Honors 2 course at Harker after seventh grade, she didn’t realize the impact it would have on her future. While taking the class, summer school principal Bradley Stoll encouraged Eden, then a student at another school, to apply to Harker. “I’m not exactly sure what led to a conversation between us but even as a young girl, she was incredibly confident in her abilities and super outgoing. It just felt like she’d be a good fit here,” remembered Stoll, who went on to teach her AP Calculus when she was a sophomore. “What I most remember about her was her kindness and thoughtfulness; she had a really tight-knit group of friends.”

Eden did apply to Harker and was one of a handful of students to join in eighth grade – a decision she is grateful for to this day. She embraced new friendships as well as the many opportunities Harker offered, becoming an Intel STS semifinalist, Presidential Scholar Candidate, National Merit Finalist and AP National Scholar. Her success at Harker opened many doors to her. From Harker, she went on to attend MIT.

“It’s so funny because when I was a senior [at Harker], I applied to multiple schools but didn’t know where I wanted to attend,” remembers Eden, who received acceptance to many top-notch colleges. “But when I visited MIT for [Campus Preview Weekend], my entire perspective changed when I met the coolest people, saw the most amazing research and had a great time. It was an instant fit.”

She received her bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering and a master’s degree in engineering. While at MIT, she did a research project on NORA (No One Revises Alone), a precursor to Slack, which she tested in the classroom. Her entrepreneurial instincts were budding, but she decided to accept a full-time position at Microsoft upon graduation rather than pursue NORA as a business.

She moved back to the Bay Area, where she explored various career options, including working in finance, patent law and teaching at Foothill College. It was during this time that she realized she wanted to get an MBA to hone her business skills.

She attended Harvard University and her world opened up in new and exciting ways, including finding inspiration for Smarty, the startup she runs today.

As a student, she often felt overwhelmed even though she was on top of her academics. It was all the life tasks that were weighing her down, from booking flights home and working on end-of-semester projects to juggling the five clubs she was president of and figuring out life after graduation.

“As the action items built up, they became more daunting. I needed a better plan to execute on these very achievable tasks,” said Eden who understood the potential in technology. “My entire career at that point had been helping people be more efficient at work by using software and AI [artificial intelligence]. I knew that existing technology could easily automate over 25 percent of my workload and that’s when I decided that I would build a software solution for myself.”

So while a student at Harvard, she started building an AI-powered assistant chatbot, which would become Smarty. This was when she met Mar Hershenson, managing partner with Pear VC, who became a mentor to Eden.

“Denzil was a go-getter and super committed to her project of increasing productivity using AI. She is one of the hardest working people I know.” said Hershenson, who was the first investor in Smarty. “When she was preparing for our accelerator demo day, she had to give a four-minute presentation. We went through more than 30 revisions in two days. I thought she would give up after so many iterations and feedback, but she took it all in stride and with a big smile. I was so proud of her when she presented to 400-plus people and was able to raise her seed round.”

Smarty has raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding from several investors, including Pear VC and Amplify. LA. Eden is grateful for support from her investors, her mentor and her family and friends and excited about the future of Smarty and the impact it will make in the world.

“I remember Feeling overwhelmed and I believe that Smarty’s technology and vision of a conversational internet operating system will change our relationships with software online, improving our user experiences and make our lives easier, streamlined and more balanced,” she said. “I want to spend time on the good stuff like bonding with my family, reading and playing piano, and I know that Smarty will help open up gaps in my calendar so I can intentionally fill them with happiness.”

Vikki Bowes-Mok is a freelance writer and editor.

The Harker Magazine

Published two times a year, The Harker Magazine showcases some of the top news, leading programs, inspiring people and visionary plans of the greater Harker community.

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