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Meet the Co-Founder of C10 Labs: An AI Center of Excellence

Updated: Apr 19

Shahid Azim, Co-Founder of C10 Labs

Shahid Azim has been an Operator, Founder, and CEO of early-stage breakthrough technology companies in the Cambridge, MA area for the past 15 years. He moved to Massachusetts for his graduate work many years ago and met people working on some interesting and complex problems; from there, his entrepreneur journey began. 

Shahid co-founded his first company with Professor Doug Hart when he was still at MIT Sloan. His interests and passion lie in solving hard, complex problems at the intersection of applied AI, Hardware, Software and Full Stack Solutions. His focus is on taking these disruptive big ideas all the way from conception or inception to commercialization. Shahid is embedded in the MIT and Harvard ecosystem across different programs and classes. He was a co-instructor with Professor Ramesh Raskar and Patricia Geli in “AI for Impact” until 2023. He has since transitioned to launch C10 Labs.

SB: Nov 16th is when the press release came out about CIC and C10 labs creating the AI innovation hub in Kendall Square. How has the journey been so far?

SA: It's been an amazing whirlwind. When we started, we weren't expecting so many teams applying from all over the world and all of this was through word of mouth through our network. It is also about how we talk about C10 Labs, because words really matter to founders. C10 Labs is not a VC. We are Operators, Founders and a team that executed across Research, Product Engineering and large-scale infrastructure projects. We have a strong Founder disposition which means we want to align and build with Founders.

We are trying to reset the rules of engagement with founders a little bit. What that means is the traditional model of VC’s has been largely focused on ownership and returns, which is all good, but we are thinking beyond that. We are focused on building with the founders and helping them make really good decisions, which is our strongest disposition first and everything else is secondary. We are very conscious of making holistic investment decisions aligned with Founders.

SB: You mentioned there was interest from across the globe. Is this a global initiative, or is this starting in Massachusetts first?

SA: We are focused on executing here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is where a lot of our networks are, as we’ve worked here for many years and decades. But the vision for the future is that if we are successful here, the platform has broad applications around the world.

SB: With regards to your previous affiliations with MIT, should founders have prior association to be eligible to participate in your program?

SA: The short answer is NO. We are open to anybody that is passionate about solving some hard problems and has an AI element to their business and how they are thinking about the world. Just by proximity to our networks the majority of the teams have an affiliation. What really matters is the team, the problem you are solving and if you have a unique point of view on how you are solving it. 

SB: Other than an idea, what should these AI enthusiasts come with? Money, founding team, etc.?

SA: It is a great question and it depends on a few different things. I guess the short answer is there is no hard requirement other than a good team working on a hard problem and a unique idea around that. Then you stage.

We have two different tracks on how entrepreneurs and teams can engage with us. The first is the cohort track, and there is a varied spectrum of companies. There are teams that are building their product, and some that are generating revenue. So what we look for is a really special team that is working on a meaningful problem and has a differentiated product and technology approach. And what is really important is that there is a core Applied AI element to the business. It all comes down to building an AI-first product. This will fundamentally create new experiences and ways to capture and deliver value.

The second track is the “build” track where we are building companies internally. It is the C10 team and mentors coming up with ideas that run through the internal process and in a very stage gated way, we evaluate the ideas.We have an internal champion, a founder in residence that carries these ideas forward. If the idea makes it through the other end, it becomes a company that gets funded internally and eventually spins out. 

SB: You have ten companies in your first cohort. Is there a limitation on the number of companies you can or plan to admit in the future?

SA: We are certainly limited by, I think, about 15 to 20 companies at the max. And then, not all the teams make it through the other end of the program. Some will get accelerated through the program. We also have an option to extend the term sheet for teams that are doing really well, and put them on a fast track. If a team completes the whole program, then we can facilitate and look at how we can help them further which could be helping them on getting funding or making a direct investment.

SB: What is the duration of the program?

SA: The entire program will last for two months.

SB: For AI enthusiasts within the startup Boston community, if they have to make it to the next cohort program, what is the one differentiator that you will be looking for?

SA: The fundamentals still matter. Even though we are in a pretty exciting time, the AI fundamentals and building an amazing team and solving a meaningful problem matter the most. There has to be some very meaningful application of AI and a sprinkling of AI with an app will not cut it. We are also not prescriptive that way and we are industry agnostic.

What we are really looking for is amazing teams first that have a technology or a point of view to solve a hard problem or a big problem. Leveraging AI and building AI-first companies is very important. And what that means is that its fundamentally the opportunity to build new experiences and new ways to deliver and capture value.

SB: As a recruiter in this space, I have a large network of candidates who are interested in AI related jobs. What are your thoughts on the job market?

SA: This is an up-and-coming industry, and there are certainly many companies that are hiring. We are also hiring, so candidates should check us out. There are a number of AI events in Boston and Cambridge. Network and engage with the community, and learn about all the amazing things Massachusetts can do for AI ventures.

SB: What is the best way our community members can learn more?

SA: Fill out the information on our website and we’ll get in touch with you: 

NoteC10 labs will be announcing the application process for their second cohort very soon. Follow on their website, on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. 

About Aruna: Aruna Mandulapalli is a seasoned recruiter who worked across industries and has recruited for several reputable companies in the US. She founded her own recruiting company HireSimplified with a mission to bring her expertise to scaling startups. Her passion lies not only in headhunting but in coaching founders about best practices and guiding them to be intentional in their hiring.


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