AI Series For Small Businesses Aims To Educate On New Technology

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Oct 13, 2023
A series of classes held at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship aim to teach small business owners how to use AI over the course of four weekly sessions.

The AI series is a partnership between UNCW’s College of Science and Engineering, Lapetus Solutions Inc., a healthcare AI company based in Wilmington, and the Small Business and Technology Development Center to help further the “democratization of AI technology,” said Lapetus CEO Karl Ricanek.

The modules in the AI series will start broad with an introduction to AI lecture on the first day, Oct. 18, said SBTDC International Business Development Counselor Paige O’Neill, who helped organize the event.

The following modules will focus on using AI for digital marketing, creating spreadsheets and training AI for small businesses, O’Neill said.

Bringing knowledge of AI to small businesses and everyday business owners could help mitigate fears that AI will take away jobs. Ricanek said AI could have the opposite effect.

“AI is helping these small businesses by reducing their day-to-day churn on work by as much as 30%,” he said.

Small businesses are the engine of the U.S. economy, Ricanek said. By putting AI in the hands of small businesses, it can help increase the productivity of the economy at large.

AI isn’t new, said Ron Vetter, the founding dean of UNCW’s College of Science and Engineering. The technology is saturating the market now because we have the technology to support it like data, storage and computing power.

“Typically only high-end users were able to play with it,” he said. “Now, it's becoming everyday use, anyone can use it.”

Before everyone starts using it, the public needs to learn about the technology, Vetter said. The ethics of AI and how to cite it are important pieces to the puzzle for an AI-savvy society.

AI is everywhere and is going to continue to dominate the business and technology sectors, Vetter said, so awareness of its positives and negatives will help business owners navigate the new terrain.

In addition to being the CEO and founder of Lapetus, Ricanek is also its chief AI scientist. He will lead the AI series given his experience and give a portion of the lectures to small business owners, he said.  

Ricanek wants to customize the experience for the series' audience. They can provide active feedback based on what they know and what they want to learn. Those in attendance will be sitting at a keyboard, working hands-on alongside Ricanek. He hopes this allows the entrepreneurs to immediately apply what they learn to their businesses, he said.

One of the event's sponsors, UNCW’s new College of Science and Engineering, is a reorganization and offshoot of the former College of Arts and Sciences, Vetter said. The split of this college led to the creation of the engineering school and the College of Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts.

The engineering program at UNCW is fairly new as well. The coastal engineering program started a couple of years ago, Vetter said, and each year the school is growing and improving the program.

“By next year we should have between 200 and 300 engineering students on campus, which is a big change for UNCW, and we are going to add several more,” he said.

As a sponsor for the AI series, Vetter sees the events as an opportunity for the College of Science and Engineering to establish itself as a leader in Wilmington’s business community, Vetter said. He wants the new college to have a large focus on business and entrepreneurship. 
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