AI Trailblazers Redefining First Coast Start-Up Ecosystem

When was the last time you used a search engine or sent a text message using dictation? Do you have a virtual assistant? How often does your phone scan your face? These tools are expressions of machine learning, or artificial intelligence. AI has become relatively omnipresent in business operations. Still, there seems to be a cultural flash point lighting up today’s zeitgeist. Earlier this year, hundreds of public figures called for a six-month pause on AI advancement via an open letter. Among them were Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk, and Andrew Yang. So, this topic is gripping the public’s attention in a special way. Let’s see how some First Coast startups are harnessing the power of AI in their daily operations.

James McCarthy

Placement Labs is a digital marketing agency that has worked with UF Health, Comcast and the Smithsonian. For CEO James McCarthy, using AI is about keeping pace with innovation. “We saw the potential of AI to enhance our digital marketing campaigns and automate repetitive tasks.” Whether it’s composing email templates, scheduling content or drafting ad copy, AI has helped Placement Labs streamline its internal operations. While increasing productivity for his team, James is focused on more than efficiency. As he puts it, “It’s about enhancing creativity and precision in our work.” By automating tedious tasks, AI can jettison mental bandwidth in favor of more tactical projects.


Kim Fitzgerald

Kim Fitzgerald is creative director at Curley Tail Design, Inc. – a Flagler County design studio that has been in business for 25 years. For Kim, AI is “…a wellspring of inspiration and support, offering fresh perspectives and insights that I can incorporate into my artistic creations.” Even if someone is not design savvy, Kim touts applications like Canva for their AI features. She describes such programs as “truly amazing platforms that can make any business look more professional and help…with their branding efforts.”


Weston Ferguson

Weston Ferguson is the COO of McGraw – an inbound marketing agency in St. Johns County. AI is ubiquitous in McGraw’s daily performance. This includes data analysis, customer support and predictive analytics. Says Ferguson, “…one of the most important tools we utilize is a free AI note taker that automatically joins us on all of our work calls that will record, transcribe and send a follow-up email to all parties with highlights and action items…” These measures reduce costs and drive higher output. Thanks to virtual assistants, clients enjoy faster response rates. “This leads to high conversion,” shares Ferguson.

In terms of AI’s expanded use going forward, Ferguson anticipates more efficient marketing campaigns. Behavioral economics and its resulting trends can yield voluminous data – which AI applications analyze and distill into usable insights. Increased streamlining could pave the way for hiring more talent. “The more we automate, the better…as long as it makes sense,” reflects Ferguson.

This has been just a glimpse of how First Coast startups are pushing the boundaries of what AI can do to help us work smarter. Real-world applications of this technology continue to surround us in plain sight.