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Guilherme Zoccolotto
May 06, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Emerging tech start-up believes people-centric data could aid workforce retention

Guilherme Zuccolotto's COEx-PMS is one seven companies, to enroll in the Regional Mid-South Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

Recruitment and retention represent one of the most significant costs for a company. When there’s a revolving door of employees, businesses constantly spend money on training new people. This likely indicates that something isn’t working; whether it’s management, workload, expectations, or employee stress levels.

Dr. Guilherme Zuccolotto, a Post-Doctoral Researcher Assistant and Industry Program Manager at the Center for Advanced Systems Research and Education (CASRE), located in the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) has been studying these workplace scenarios since 2019.

“Many times, companies make decisions based strictly on performance, not considering people,” Zuccolotto said.

So, what if there was a way to accurately identify the reason employees are leaving while focusing on process performance? Zuccolotto is leveraging artificial intelligence and his background in Industrial & Systems Engineering to create a People-Centric Operational Excellence Data-Driven Decision Support System software that will accomplish just that. He is calling it for short – “PCOEx-PMS.”

“It will be able to take data that the company is already collecting such as absenteeism, products produced, project timelines, anonymous surveys, meetings, and more,” Zuccolotto said. “Then, turn that into a report to help decision-makers make better-informed decisions for their company and employees’ benefit.”

So far, he said most companies he chats with are interested in this software as a service. That’s what prompted Zuccolotto to launch this idea into a full-blown start-up.

He’s no stranger to starting a business. Zuccolotto grew up in Brazil and founded two start-ups in his home country. The first one was a consulting firm, and the second one was a portable recycling machine for office papers, that he helped develop. Though the second business was thriving, it came to a screeching halt when his primary investor passed away.

A few years later, after getting his bachelor’s in Production Engineering, Zuccolotto decided he wanted to continue his education in Industrial & Systems Engineering. He got connected with UTK and relocated his life across the continent to pursue that degree.

“The biggest changes were the culture – namely the way people greet one another, and the food. I loved the food in Brazil, and it was a big adjustment,” he shared.

At first, he considered a master’s degree; however, upon arrival, his late advisor, Dr. Rupy Sawhney convinced him to pursue a Ph.D. That was in 2019.

Zuccolotto never left. He moved into a program manager position in CASRE.

Alongside that role, he also serves as the Global Engagement Liaison for the Center, helping recruit international students to the university’s Lean Enterprise Systems Program (LESP), which is a summer program.

“I would say I’m a bit busy,” he laughed, also, sharing how he proposed to his fiancé, Amanda, in February.

Yet, on top of all this responsibility, he still wants to pursue starting his own company.

Zuccolotto is one of 16 researchers, representing eight companies, to enroll in the Regional Mid-South Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. He spent the course of the three-week program, which ended last week, conducting 20 customer interviews to understand where his product might fit in the market.

“From my experience with my first start-ups, I realized that no matter how good your product is, if you don’t have any money flowing, you’re going to have a hard time,” he said.

Additionally, he hopes the program is a launching point for new connections.

He is currently looking to hire a software developer who can help get PCOEx-PMS operational and more automated. Zuccolotto hoped the customer discovery portion of I-Corps can provide more insight into what features companies would like to see – and what they’re willing to pay for.

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