If AI is at the peak of its hype cycle, is there still room for innovation and disruption? That’s one question considered by some of Texas’ leading AI entrepreneurs and investors at an event hosted by WeWork this week in Austin.

The panel discussion, titled “AI & VC: Driving Industry Innovation + Disruption,” covered topics from how to get started with AI to building teams to predictions for the future. Here are some key insights from the panel:

Start with the Problem, Not the Technology

Neil Allison, the EVP of Product & Commercial at Austin’s Ravin AI, emphasized the importance of staying grounded and focusing on the fundamental problems businesses are trying to solve rather than being dazzled by the technology itself. As an example, Ravin AI uses computer vision to automate inspections of rental cars and used cars, making assessing a vehicle’s condition faster and cheaper and ensuring inspections are more objective, consistent and standardized. It’s an example of a problem that can be defined and solved without AI but then enhanced and automated with AI.

“Start with the fundamentals and the problems you trying to solve in the business,” Allison said. “Don’t focus on the technology — AI is just the latest stage in a technology evolution.”

Build Trust and Overcome Fears

Despite all the attention around AI, some executives are still hesitant about adopting it in their company, said Yasir Motiwala, Head of Sales, America, for DeepL, a global AI communications and translation company. DeepL’s translation platform allows companies to communicate effectively by meeting their customers in their own language.

But even with such a powerful value proposition, Motiwala said he still needs to overcome fears about data privacy and the black-box nature of some AI applications.

“A lot of companies are scared of adopting AI,” he said. “Executives are getting the directive but don’t know what it means. They are scared about hallucinating and false data. People are scared to put their data into a company without knowing where that data is going.”

An Investor’s Perspective: Time to Move Beyond the Basics

Jackie DiMonte, the co-founder of Austin VC firm Grid Capital, surprised many in the audience by predicting that funding for AI startups will likely decrease in the coming year. DiMonte’s firm leads pre-seed and seed rounds in industrial technology companies, and she said the current wave of AI solutions that tackle a single problem will give way to those who are better at leveraging data and integrating workflows.

“AI startups have tremendous opportunities because they have data across entire industries that none of their customers have access to,” she said. “The best approach for widespread adoption is to find a way to get your solutions integrated with someone’s day-to-day workflow. You have to convince someone who has been doing a job for 30 years to trust what the technology is telling them.”

Ride the Wave

Ganesh Padmanabhan, founder and CEO of Autonomize AI in Austin, used a surfing analogy to help conclude the discussion. Autonomize's AI copilots help healthcare workers organize the tremendous amount of data in their field to make data-driven decisions and improve patient outcomes.

“I think of the surfer as your team, the surfboard as your product, and the waves as your market,” Padmanabhan said. “All of those things have to work seamlessly together for success.”