Wright State alumnus, entrepreneur makes strides in AI technology

Hany Elemary, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Wright State, is collaborating with Google to develop a conversational AI initiative for the drive-through ordering system at Wendy’s restaurants.

Wright State University alumnus and entrepreneur Hany Elemary is making strides in the world of AI automation.

Elemary’s company, Navalia, is collaborating with Google to develop and implement a conversational AI initiative for the drive-through ordering system at Wendy’s restaurants.

“The goal is to have an AI that will sound incredibly natural and be able to very accurately take your order,” said Elemary. “We have been doing some user testing for a couple of months now and have gone live at a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. We will be testing it in a few more restaurants within the next few months.”

He went on to explain that due to the labor shortage in the food industry, many companies like Wendy’s have found themselves short-staffed. Technology such as this will free up workers to take care of other tasks such as food preparation or customer service that require more of a human touch, such as dealing with frustrated or unhappy customers.

Even though they have begun testing the technology, Elemary said that perfecting it will require a whole lot more data. For example, he said there are 200 billion different possible ways to order a Dave’s Single, one of Wendy’s popular burgers.

He said they are also experimenting with sentiment analysis based on the tone of voice, inflection, and the words that customers use to gauge their sentiment during an interaction with the AI. He said this is not something that has been implemented yet.

Elemary, who graduated from Wright State University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the College of Engineering and Computer Science and a minor in business from the Raj Soin College of Business, said he has had an interest in business and technology from a young age.

He recalled his first successful, albeit short-lived business, as a young student growing up in Cairo, Egypt.

“I was a fairly good student and also fairly good at predicting what could potentially come in the exams. So, I started to put together summarized study materials and sell them at school. I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time, and they put a stop to my business fairly quickly,” said Elemary.

Even after this experience, Elemary was undaunted and still saw business ownership as a potential part of his future. When he enrolled at Wright State, he was inspired to exercise and strengthen those parts of him that seemed natural.

“Growing up I always tinkered around with technology, and so I wanted to get a degree that covered that overlap between my love of business and technology and began by taking MIS (management and information systems) as well as computer science courses,” said Elemary.

He eventually settled on pursuing a computer science degree but had enough business courses under his belt to earn a minor in business.

After graduation, he worked as a technology consultant on a freelance basis and eventually for the global technology consulting company Thoughtworks, where he led multiple technology projects and discovered his talent for building relationships.

In 2021 Elemary left Thoughtworks in search of his next big challenge.

“I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do. I knew that I was really strong at building relationships and building and leading high-performing teams,” he said. “However, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go work for another company or to start one of my own.”

As luck would have it, some of those solid relationships he had built paid off in different ways.

“Several individuals I’ve previously worked with and hold in high regard approached me to assist them with their ventures at new firms. It was this connection that paved the way for the immediate success and financial stability of Navalia,” he said.

Elemary said his partners and co-founders are another keystone relationship that allows for the company’s growth and continued success. He also mentioned his talented team members (called Navalians) as exemplifying the connections and relationships he has built over the years.

After only two years Navalia, which focuses on technology consulting and delivering digital experiences and platforms, has grown globally and has a staff of over 70 people.

Elemary said that his time at Wright State helped him along his path to success.

“Wright State had a tremendous impact on me, through the education and resources they provided, as well as the opportunities to connect with people in the industry,” said Elemary.

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