First published in the Sept. 25 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
For A.J. Abdallat, success in tech comes down to hiring the smartest people available, empowering them to do what they do best and developing a culture in which they’ll thrive.
Those steps, he contended, helped Beyond Limits rise from a Glendale startup to a successful artificial intelligence software developer. Abdallat, the firm’s founder and CEO, shared his recipe for achievement and insight into the industry to close out Glendale Tech Week on Wednesday, serving as the keynote speaker for the wrap-up party.
“Once you do that, you have set the formula for you to scale up,” he told the audience, speaking at the Hero House entrepreneurship hub in Glendale. “That’s really the most important thing for any startup. Don’t be shy, hire smart people and invest a lot of time in getting the right talent in place, and great things will happen.”
Abdallat founded Beyond Limits in 2014, after helping to form numerous startups at Caltech in Pasadena and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge beginning in the late 1990s. He said he identified Southern California as ideal for tech startups because of the presence of JPL, Caltech and University of California campuses. Glendale’s proximity to two of the institutions helped make it a good starting place to begin hiring talent, Abdallat said.
“That’s what brought us to Glendale,” he said. “I’m happy and proud that we started our company in Glendale. Glendale is a great place to be.”
The speech wrapped up the three days of Glendale Tech Week, which returned after a break last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The endeavor was initiated by the city and sponsored by a number of local technology firms to help foster the Jewel City as a new tech hub. Addressing the closing party remotely, City Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said the city aims to create an “ecosystem of innovation and prosperity for startups.”
“We wanted to make sure that we were active participants in your success,” he said. “We continue to build partnerships each year while putting Glendale on the tech map. Everyone is rooting for the startup community in Glendale. We’re not just rooting — we’re taking an active role in fostering that growth.”
Tech Week’s free seminars included talks and programs on securing capital and investments for startups and how to tap into various networks to help get them off the ground. Tech notoriously moves quickly and at high risk, meaning that entrepreneurs need to be able to clearly articulate their vision — and perhaps have a little bit of luck — to secure coveted investors.
“From my Jewish background, we say chutzpah,” Councilman Dan Brotman told the crowd Wednesday. “It takes a lot of chutzpah, but when you’re successful, it’s very rewarding. We appreciate this in Glendale. We want you here. We want the energy that you bring and we want the solutions, because we have a lot of challenges ahead of us.”
Abdallat said there are other factors that contribute to tech success, not least of which is fostering an enduringly positive workplace culture. Entrepreneurs must embrace hiring people smarter than they are, he added, and it’s healthy to accept that mistakes or wrong decisions will be made — as long as those making them will learn from them.
Another aspect of Glendale that he liked, Abdallat said, was the diversity of people who live and work here.
“For us in tech, for us as a company in artificial intelligence, we want that diversity,” he said. “That is going to give you a competitive advantage.”
Tech Week concluded with its Pitchfest, a competition resembling “Shark Tank” in which enterprising contestants take four minutes to pitch their startup and take questions. This year’s prize included cash and in-kind services to assist with the startup’s ascent.
Mirianas Chachisvilis, founder of skin cancer screening startup Veriskin, emerged victorious at Pitchfest on Wednesday. His competitors included Kubevious, HELTUN, Pinsight, MyoGene Bio, Aniv, Savely, Dowork.ai and BEYREP.
Tech Week also handed out awards Wednesday. Glendale-based Phonexa and dot818 each received the Best Culture Award; Glendale Community College student Aleen Soghomonian, who recently triumphed at the college’s own Pitchfest, won the Rising Star Award; Beyond Limits earned the Cutting Edge Technology Award; Age of Learning received the Break Through Award; and Armen Karaoghlanian, the chief marketing officer at Phonexa and founder of the Armenian Film Society, won the Glendale Young Entrepreneur Award.
Full award bios and additional information can be viewed at glendaletechweek.com.
To send off the crowd Wednesday, Abdallat had a last bit of parting advice for would-be entrepreneurs.
“Enjoy the journey,” he said. “Take time to have fun.”