Founders Fridays is a new StartupAmsterdam initiative that showcases local entrepreneurs who help strengthen our ecosystem. By inviting founders to answer a few questions, we want to shine a light on our ecosystem’s most inspirational stories and role models. We hope that we’ll all learn and grow together by providing startup founders with a space to share their insights and experience.

This week we spoke to Layla Li, the co-founder of KOSA, an Automated Responsible AI System that provides organisations with tools to evaluate and mitigate AI bias.

How did your career journey lead to you founding KOSA AI?

I was born in a small town near Tibet, then completed my bachelor and master in the US, where I majored in psychology, communication, and computer science; afterwards, I lived and worked in Japan, the Netherlands and Kenya at tech companies, including Philips and Tesla. My diverse background in both my professional career and personal life have brought me to the idea of KOSA, which in its essence is about tech inclusion – how do we make sure technologies benefit all and not just a few. Think facial recognition software that performs poorly on Black people’s faces or CV scanners that automatically favour men over women for engineering jobs. The problem presents an interesting technical challenge as well as an ever-changing social debate. Right now, we’re a remote team of eight building software solutions that detect and mitigate bias through the machine learning process to combat inequality fuelled by AI advancement. 

Why did you choose Amsterdam to start and grow your business?

Amsterdam is known as a very liberal city, with a history rooted in both creating commerce and advancing egalitarianism, which is perfect for a tech startup like ours that focuses on a social mission. The EU is leading regulations on artificial intelligence in the world, and the Dutch government has embraced the changes in its policy discussion as well. Not to mention the ease of global expansion from here and a diverse pool of talent we can dip into.

And I’ve been living in Amsterdam for six years now – the work-life balance here is a good guardrail for busy entrepreneurs.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?

Love the problem, not the solution. As a techie myself, we tend to focus on the cool technology we are building instead of the problem it solves for people. 80% of startups fail because they built something nobody wants. So it’s really important to keep in mind who’s feeling this pain, and what we are doing to help with that.

Which were the local communities that have been the most helpful in getting you to where you are today?

A shoutout to NL AI Coalitie for facilitating conversations between corporates and startups as well as the public-private connections.

What’s a recent achievement you’re proud of?

Our company was born during the pandemic, so we started as a remote team, and we had the opportunity to not be limited by geography. Right now, we have team members in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Korea, Macedonia, and the Netherlands. I’m really proud of the diverse team we’re building and to be able to give voices to everyone. We’d like to think our company is borderless because technology is also borderless these days.

You’ve been selected to exhibit at World Summit AI with StartupAmsterdam. How was your experience?

We’re very excited to finally meet people face to face again. It’s becoming a privilege to have face time with people, and the lineup of this year looked amazing. 

Want to learn more about the women breaking through the startup scene? Check out this roundup of Amsterdam’s wonder women

And if you want to share your story with our local ecosystem, you can contact us by email: startup@amsterdam.nl.