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Willamette MBA alums address bias in hiring with AI

by Paul McKean,

Successful business partnerships can be forged in unexpected places. For Andrew Hallberg BA’12, MBA’16 and Malik Kahel MBA’16, it all began in a Salem arcade bar during their second week as students in Willamette’s MBA program.

Hallberg moved back to Salem a few years after getting his BA in 2012 at Willamette. Kahel was new to Willamette and had selected it after looking at several other MBA options. The two became fast friends.

Kahel and Hallberg connected through their shared interest in the intersection of business and technology. Early in their MBA career, they reestablished the Atkinson Business Technology Association, a student-led group that helps students learn about business and technology.

Both were able to gain powerful experiences and connections through Willamette’s unique Angel Fund Program — the first student-run angel investing program in the country.

Sitting alongside real accredited investors, Kahel and Hallberg watched startup founders pitch their next big business ideas. Then, they were able to make real investments in the founders they met. Hallberg even traveled to Seattle, where he sat at the same table as high-level executives from companies like Amazon.

“The Angel Fund program was definitely one of the biggest eye-opening opportunities,” Kahel said. “We got to go see startups pitch and sit in as the investors made decisions.”

After receiving their MBAs, Kahel and Hallberg dabbled together in the world of blockchains before settling on their current project: using artificial intelligence to address bias in the hiring process.

“The biases I face due to my mixed heritage and non-western name ignited a resolve to alter hiring norms,” Kahel said. “With HirelyAi, Andrew and I are aiming to shift the focus from biases to talent and merit."

When it came time to look for funding for their project, the co-founders knew what to do.

“Our experience in the Angel Fund positioned us really, really well,” Hallberg said. “That class really taught us how to think like investors, how to get funding, and what investors care about.”

Their success led them to participate in the highly-selective Portland Incubator Experiment, where the two founders were able to hone their business plan and pitch their product to investors. The result is HirelyAI, a start-up designed to reduce bias in hiring.

With HirelyAI, Kahel and Hallberg want to prevent qualified candidates from being excluded from the hiring process. Their tools help screen candidates through video interviews and chats — all through AI. Kahel and Hallberg think that AI has other applications in the hiring space, such as helping candidates prepare for the job market through customized practice virtual interviews.

Kahel and Hallberg are proud to see their Willamette education put to work making change through technology.

“When you’re working on something for a long time, you want to have passion behind it and something that you can really get behind,” Hallberg said. “We think we can help companies and people who are interviewing and just make the whole process better.”

Learn more about HirelyAI on the company's website.

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