Areto Labs uses AI to bust digital bullies
Alberta-based start-up Areto Labs among first cohort to go through TELUS Community Safety & Wellness Accelerator
By ATB Financial 16 June 2022 3 min read
A women-led, homegrown cyber security start-up is poised to make the internet a better place. Alberta-based Areto Labs recently received a major boost, thanks to the TELUS Community Safety and Wellness (CSW) Accelerator and a new social impact fund.
Areto Labs was among the first cohort of the 12-week CSW Accelerator, along with 18 other start-ups from around the world. All of the companies aim to create solutions to complex social problems, such as mental health, racism and hate and domestic violence.
“The TELUS Community Safety and Wellness Accelerator’s first cohort was a tremendous success,” says Ashif Mawji, Chair of the Accelerator and Managing Director of ScaleGood Fund LP. “The startups are now in a better position to scale their business, as well as make a meaningful and measurable social impact.”
As part of its Greater Good strategy, ATB was a founding sponsor of the accelerator and worked with the CSW Accelerator’s partners, including the Edmonton Police Foundation, AlchemistX and Alberta Innovates, to help launch it in 2021.
On the accelerator’s demo day in April 2022, the first cohort completed the program, presented their socially-conscious innovations and Areto Labs stood out. The team behind the new ScaleGood fund made their first investment in Areto, which will allow the digital disruptor to scale more quickly.
“There is a mutually beneficial connection for business and social innovation, and start-ups are particularly poised to lend new ideas and energy to help solve societal challenges, like mental health,” says Holly Regel, Director of Social Impact Partnerships at ATB. “The CSW Accelerator is amplifying new and existing tech companies that are working to this end, and ATB is thrilled to support these ventures as they grow and innovate in Alberta.”
A bully-busting bright idea
Lana Cuthbertston, CEO and co-founder of Areto Labs, says she first became aware of the barriers posed by social media harassment and abuse for women and politics after she started the non-profit, ParityYEG.
Cuthbertson, a former ATB Financial team member, developed ParityYEG to encourage more women to run for political office. After learning how artificial intelligence could detect toxic tweets, Cuthbertson started dreaming of potential applications for combatting online negativity. “[I thought] What if we could build on this work? What if we could use this information to counter post, and try to make the digital community more positive and inclusive,” says Cuthbertson.
Areto targets major media, entertainment and sports brands who rely on employees and public personalities to grow their loyalty. The companies will be able to see in real time when one of their employees or key influencers is facing abuse and automate supportive tweets and messages, in their brand’s voice, to combat the negativity.
“Most organizations don't have a real concept of what their frontline employees deal with online on a day-to-day basis,” says Cuthbertson. “Toxic speech on social media is on the rise and [...] our data helps companies understand what’s going on and see the need to provide support to their employees.”
Throughout the 12-week accelerator, Areto’s co-founders were able to hone their business model, by engaging in training and team-building exercises and present their business case on demo day. Cuthbertson and her team also benefitted from one-on-one mentorship from a range of business leaders in the tech innovation space.
One of their biggest ‘aha’ moments came when Christy Canida, a coach at Alchemist X, helped them refine their pitch.
“Christy helped us realize that the pairing of this cutting-edge computer science technology with this age-old storytelling power is what makes us unique,” says Cuthbertson, who participated in the accelerator with co-founders Kasey Machin, Areto’s Chief Operating Officer and Jacqueline Comer, Areto’s Chief Product Officer. “It was helpful to meet other start-up founders, particularly the ones from diverse backgrounds, since we could compare notes, share advice, and just generally meet other people trying to do the same hard thing we were - building a new company.”
With the CSW program complete and the ScaleGood investment in place, Cuthbert says Areto Labs is on the way to achieving their long-term goal of making online communities safer and more inclusive and reducing online hate.
A second group of social innovators will begin working with the accelerator in September 2022. Applicants from around the world interested in bringing their start-up to Alberta through the TELUS CSW Accelerator can find more information at cswaccelerator.com.