Economics student launches award-winning tech startup

Advay Gupta's new company, Pathlit, makes AI easier to use
Cozad award recipients
Pathlit won first place in the Cozad New Venture Challenge in the spring. Pictured from left is Mark Zhang, Advay Gupta, and Emma Chen. (Photo courtesy of the Grainger College of Engineering Technology Entrepreneur Center.)

Advay Gupta always found himself thinking like his father: very technical and drawn to the latest technology. His mother was a different matter. She thinks in a more non-technical way, he said, and Gupta is always helping her understand different types of technology, from downloads to social media and cloud computing. Helping his mother turned out to be the foundation of a promising career in artificial intelligence.

Assisting others to navigate complex technology became Gupta’s passion, and it led to a milestone moment in 2023 when Gupta, a sophomore studying econometrics and quantitative economics, developed Pathlit, a tool designed to make artificial intelligence (AI) solutions easier to understand and utilize.

Pathlit functions on browsers and is a no code tool that allows business users to rapidly test, build, evaluate, and deploy multiple large language model solutions (think of many different kinds of ChatGPTs chained together to automate something). It is meant to save customers time and allows them to avoid investing heavily in building in-house generative AI teams.

The tool has promise, winning $50,000 in April after placing first in the Cozad New Venture Challenge, a competition run by the Technology Entrepreneur Center within Grainger College of Engineering to encourage startup companies and connect them with mentors and investors. About 200 teams from around campus participated in the four-month challenge this year.

Cozad demo day
The Cozad New Venture Challenge Demo Day in April. (Photo courtesy of the Grainger College of Engineering Technology Entrepreneur Center.)

Gupta won the award with his teammates, product lead Mark Zhang, a computer science major, and front end developer Emma Chen, also a computer science major. Their winning project, Pathlit, is now a company, with Gupta, the founder, serving as CEO. It is backed by companies such as AWS Activate, Google, and Nvidia.

Gupta said that he has always been interested in combining his academic studies with his passions for machine learning and data science.

“Data science and machine learning are, in my opinion, very related to econometrics because you can use the principles of data science and machine learning to analyze different data sets of the market, then use machine learning to predict outcomes better based on different criteria,” he said.

While Pathlit arose out of his efforts to help his mother, Gupta soon saw possibility within the prototype after his parents and their friends began using the tool. In late 2023 Gupta showed Pathlit to Jacob Kinsey, director of Illinois Business Consulting at the Gies College of Business. He encouraged Gupta, who soon turned Pathlit into a company. Since then Gupta has been engaged in fundraising, building his team, and joining competitions, such as the Cozad New Venture Challenge.

At Cozad’s demonstration day in April, near the end of the event, Gupta and his team pitched Pathlit to a judging panel of venture capitalists, early-stage investors, and entrepreneurs. Winning the competition was a big step for Pathlit, Gupta said.

“Cozad was really great, I met a lot of cool people. The next thing I know, we made it to the finals, and we won. It was pretty cool how that went,” Gupta said. “We just learned as much as we could and incorporated as much of what we learned into our business and everything just fell into place.”

Moving forward, Gupta wants to keep developing Pathlit to be as useful as possible as AI develops.

“A tool like Pathlit, where you can connect all AI models together and try to solve some problems, I think would be really useful in the future. Not just for businesses but individuals,” Gupta said.

With help from the Cozad funding, Gupta is building what he describes as a team of well-rounded indviduals.

“Personally, I'm booked with meetings throughout the day because if I really like a conversation with one person, I ask them to connect me with two of their favorite people who are in a similar industry and then just talk to them,” he said.

Despite his busy schedule in school and with the company, Gupta has also taken some time to reflect on the whirlwind of momentum brought by Pathlit.

“Pathlit makes me feel very hopeful that the scariness and uncertainty about the future that I am experiencing today will go away as I achieve bigger and better things,” he said.

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Ella Dame