NEWS2 August 2023

An interview with Aaron Mason

Combine.AI founder and serial entrepreneur, Aaron Mason

Aaron Mason is a serial entrepreneur who has founded and co-founded numerous successful businesses with the help of our business incubator, SETsquared Surrey.

During a long association with the University of Surrey, Aaron gained a computing degree, a Masters in Internet Computing and a PhD in computer science.

Rather than pursue an academic career, Aaron always knew that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and business founder. He saw the journey to his PhD as a personal challenge and a way of learning from a range of experts and discovering different ways of thinking in order to build up the necessary skills to become a successful entrepreneur.

Aaron faced an initial challenge. Although he had many ideas to start different businesses, ideas conceived from his own pain points and from problems he experienced, he knew that he didn’t yet have the necessary expertise or connections to found a successful business.

He started his entrepreneurial journey while still a student, determined to learn by experience. He developed a project management system called ManagePlaces which became one of his first businesses. He won a start-up award which entitled his team to membership at SETsquared Surrey, a business incubator for UK technology start-ups and scale-ups, based at the Surrey Research Park. SETsquared aims to fast-track the growth of business by providing expert, unique and highly individualised support, access to excellent business networks and flexible access to office services.

“I was terrible at everything to start with,” says Aaron. “It’s about having the mindset to realise you’re terrible and then working to improve, learning from your experiences. There are so many challenges. One of our first challenges as naïve tech founders, was commercialisation, an area that we had limited experience in. When we tried to commercialise, we realised that we needed extra help and expertise. We received help from SETsquared, and watched to see what other companies like us were doing, so we could keep learning and evolving.”

As part of his membership at SETsquared Surrey, Aaron gained access to a dedicated business mentor and benefited from the expertise of the incubator team. Aaron’s team attended investment and sales workshops at the incubator, which provided valuable insight.

“SETsquared Surrey gave us support and the opportunity to apply for and achieve grant funding,” explains Aaron. “Certain key things I learned on the workshops were invaluable to the success of our business at the time, and eight years later they still stick with me, helping me start new ventures.”

Early in his career, Aaron was involved in developing Thoughtified, a company that developed integrated software with machine learning and AI. The company was awarded Best Start-Up by SETsquared in 2013 and was acquired by the AI Corporation later that year.

Learning lessons as he launched multiple other businesses in the years that followed, Aaron discovered that having sound advice and good networks was critical to business success.

“Being able to see your errors and self-correct is an important entrepreneurial skill, and you get there by making a lot of mistakes and learning from them. You have to be a hard worker and have good people around you. Our association with SETsquared provided this.”

Aaron has launched five further technology businesses in the last decade, applying all of the lessons learned and the advice received at each stage of the business.

In 2020, he launched one of his latest ventures Combine.AI, a company focused on harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) powered assistants. Aaron’s team are developing products including Emma.AI, a travel scheduling tool, and Eric.AI, a tool designed to improve the meeting experience.

Last year, Aaron and the Combine.AI team took part in the SETsquared Investment Showcase, an annual event where up to 20 shortlisted member companies pitch to a room full of investors, venture capitalists and funding managers. The investment-ready members prepare for the pitch with business support and mentoring from the SETsquared incubation teams and Entrepreneurs in Residence.

“One of our investors found us during the rounds at the Showcase, which resulted in us securing investment,” explained Aaron.

Since the investment, Aaron’s main focus has been Combine.AI. Aaron and the Combine.AI team are concentrating on scaling up the Eric.AI product and looking to raise their next round of investment next year, leading the way in ground-breaking AI powered solutions.

Despite moving the business HQ to Cardiff, the team have chosen to stay as virtual members of SETsquared Surrey, which means they can still use the facilities when working remotely.

“The networks that I have formed through the SETsquared community are invaluable,” says Aaron. “I still keep in touch with lots of fellow members and bounce ideas off them and that always helps me. The Entrepreneurs in Residence, the mentors and the fellow companies in the incubator are always great sounding boards and have supported me from my student entrepreneur days right up to now.”