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Partpic Entrepreneur Jewel Burks Flying High With Visuals to Identify Parts

Typically, finding industrial supply parts has always been a lengthy and cumbersome procedure. Consumers go through a complex search cycle to find replacements, and the process is often fraught with errors.

But all that changed when Jewel Burks, a graduate of Howard University, left her enterprise sales role at Google’s headquarters in California to pursue an opening in a managerial position at McMaster-Carr, a top U.S. industrial parts distributor.

During the course of her time at the Atlanta office, Burks soon discovered there was a pressing need for a more convenient and visual way to search for repair parts. She figured there had to be a better way to track down parts through visual recognition and sophisticated algorithms.

In an interview with UrbanGeekz, Burks, now 26, said that in her role at McMaster-Carr, she was tasked with listening to thousands of customer calls to understand how members of her team handled requests.

“I heard a recurring theme on these calls, which was that buyers often times did not have the correct part number or name of the part in order to make a purchase,” said Burks, co-founder and chief executive of Partpic. “This often led to frustrating conversations and mistakes in the ordering process. I wanted to create a simpler, more accurate way to search.”

What emerged from her experience working at McMasters-Carr was the formation of Partpic in August 2013, an Atlanta-based startup designed to streamline the purchase of maintenance and repair parts using computer-vision technology.

Users simply take snaps of screws, bolts, or other parts they want to replace and automatically receive product name, specifications, and supplier information. Partpic locates the distributor that carries the part, allowing customers to have a smooth and ideal search experience.

“Partpic isn’t an app,” Burks said. “Integration with an app is one method companies are choosing, but the technology can also be integrated into websites and even kiosks for retail.”

Can you name these parts? Probably not but Partpic’s computer-vision technology helps takes the hassle out of identifying parts

Can you name these parts? Probably not but Partpic’s computer-vision technology helps takes the hassle out of identifying parts

The company, co-founded by Burks and Jason Crain, has won numerous national competitions including the 36|86 Pitch Contest and the 2015 SXSW Accelerator. Prize money from contests helped finance the startup during the early days.

Just three years since its launch, Partpic is transforming the multi-million dollar industrial supply industry. “We’ve built a computer vision and machine learning powered application programming interface that can identify hardware with an image,” Burks said.

After raising $1.5 million in seed funding, Burks and her team are well placed to create and enhance the technology that’s helping solve a real-life problem in the industrial supply industry.

Burks, who also serves as entrepreneur in residence for diversity markets at Google, said she is most excited about the fact that she and her team are solving a real pain point for millions of people and thousands of companies.

“Growing our database of parts, the size of the team, revenue and customer base are the main things I am looking to accomplish with Partpic,” she said. “More personally, demonstrating that I can win as a black woman in technology and manufacturing is very important to me as well.”

Burks’ accomplishments were again recognized when last month she was featured in the Forbes ‘30 under 30’ as one of the young influential entrepreneurs who are making waves in their respective industries. “It was a great honor to be featured,” Burks said. “I was excited to be named to a list of so many disruptors and innovators in a wide range of industries.”

Although she struggled with self-doubt and disbelief in her abilities by other people as she was creating Partpic, Burks said she is able to stay motivated through the obstacles. “God, my family, and my desire to achieve greatness keep me moving forward.”

Follow Helena Joseph on Twitter@helena_josep