Ari Raivetz Of Transcend: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Ensure you have a process to continuously evaluate your vision and use cases at least every 6 months.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ari Raivetz.

Ari has more than 25 years of experience in corporate leadership, finance, corporate strategy, and public and private equity investing. Ari is the Founder and CEO of Transcend Software, a generative design SaaS company transforming the way society designs critical infrastructure. Previously Ari served as Chairman (2008–2020) and CEO (2011–2020) of Organica Water, a next generation wastewater treatment technology provider that enables localized treatment and reuse. Under Ari’s leadership Organica grew from <$1M of Revenue and 30 reference facilities to a global business with more than 130 reference facilities in 20 countries that is recognized as a top “sustainable” brand in the water industry. Prior to Organica, Ari worked in finance as Head ofWater Private Equity Investments for RNK Capital, an $800M AUM

investment firm that was a pioneer in the cleantech space, and as a VP and Senior Research Analyst at Bank of America Securities covering the energy sector. He started his career in corporate development and marketing in the enterprise software industry for various start-ups in the e-procurement, supply chain, and CRM sectors. Ari has an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a BBA in Finance from the George Washington University. He lives in Princeton, NJ with his wife, Lauren, and their daughters Sydney and Lila.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I started in water and energy 15 years ago. I spent the prior 4–5 years in an oil and gas at an investment bank, and helped raised billions for companies that were drilling for those resources. I wanted to pay back my debt to the planet. So I took a job at Cleantech PE fund and was investing in renewable energy and sustainable water technology companies. I started to see how the manual process of preliminary design was holding back these companies from truly scaling. I went on to run one of these businesses, a wastewater recycling company based in Europe. Awesome, sustainable technology. It was taking them 400 hours and over one month to generate a preliminary design just to respond to a potential customer. I knew we had to do something differently. I had previously worked in enterprise software focused on ERP and CRM, so I had a solid background in business process automation. Why couldn’t we automate preliminary design? It was a novel concept, but we hired some software developers and set out to prove it. After 2 years of development, we had a generative design software that took that 400 hours down to a few hours. This was 2014. After years of utilizing this software within the wastewater company, I decided there was a big opportunity to run it as a standalone software business serving global utilities, engineering firms, and OEM’s — we raised a 3M seed in 2019 and Transcend was born!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are working to solve some of the most pressing issues of our team — real, world-changing problems — like ensuring every human on the planet has access to clean water and treated wastewater, renewable sources of power, and overall a better quality of life through improved infrastructure. We are helping those responsible for designing, building, and operating our societies make better decisions in the planning phases of projects; one of the projects we’re most proud of is our work in Brazil where we worked with a local engineering firm and a group of students from the local favelas to design sustainable wastewater treatment plants for the local community.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Persistence — Making TRUE change happen is going to be 98% failures and only 2% success. One must never give up and keep iterating and learning and finding ways to get to the outcome. I remember in the early days of Transcend when presented our software to a Top 10 global engineering consultant… who declined to move forward with us. Three years later they came back and said ‘we tried build what you have… and we only got 10% of the way.’ They are now one of our customers!

Be Humble — If you start a business that you think you can change the world, you tend to have a personality that believes the word “can’t” doesn’t exist. But its more important to “know what you don’t know” and hire people around that are smarter and DO know those answers. To accomplish truly great things, you have to know when you should step out of the way. One example — our founding team is not a group of SaaS experts; we came from an engineering pedigree and had to bring in true SaaS leaders to allow is to scale. We’ve had incredible SaaS leaders join us over the last 12 months and it has made a world of difference in our ability to scale and build a thriving business.

Focus & Discipline — Time is the only truly scarce resource. Retaining discipline in how we spend our time and focusing on what’s critical at that moment — not just the top of the inbox — is key for that success. For me its about setting personal and professional goals quarterly and holding myself accountable to spend my time executing on those goals.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

I would like to start with a clarification. Generative Design is often powered by AI, but Generative Design is NOT Generative AI. For the purposes of this interview, when you ask about “AI” I will include Generative Design in my answer.

Algorithm driven, automated, and outcome-based design methodologies are poised to redefine our built world; and specifically, critical infrastructure: transportation systems, water and energy assets, housing, and more. As our past performance has clearly shown, the traditional ways of planning and designing critical infrastructure are simply not going to succeed in the new era of climate change, rapidly evolving regulation, land constraints, and crumbling infrastructure. There’s too much work to be done in evaluating both all of this uncertainty and new emerging technologies, and not enough talent to do it. Technology like generative design fills the gap so we can effectively and affordably construct foundational critical infrastructure systems that will be needed to combat climate change.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Generative Design.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

When I saw that Brookfield Asset Management won a $2 billion concession to sustainably treat wastewater for millions of people in South America using Transcend’s Generative Design platform — TDG.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

We are a Generative Design SaaS business, so our software developers are experts in the field and constantly training on the latest AI technologies.

For our customers, a huge part of their ability to adopt is how they cope with the workflow and business model changes that Generative Design brings. What happens when planning a substation or water treatment plant takes minutes instead of months? What if we can now evaluate 100+ options or sites vs. just 1–2 in the past? What does an engineer do with all the extra time he or she has now that this part of their workload has been automated? How do help our clients develop skills to “pilot” Transcend Design Generator to achieve better outcomes? What inputs should a user give to achieve the best outcome? We help our clients answer all these questions with the value added services we provide.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

In infrastructure design, the key is mixing deterministic algorithms that provide a proper scientific and engineering basis for a design with indeterministic AI that can optimize alternatives to achieve an outcome. We must be cautious to let the indeterministic models creep into the engineering-critical areas like structural design, water chemistry, etc.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

1 . Agree on a vision for how the industry will look in 10 years.

2 . List all the use cases for AI that will result in that vision, and map them on “value/effort” matrix

3 . Choose which of the use cases you want to try in the next 1–2 years and how you want to measure success.

4 . Put together pilot teams to execute, while at the same time planning years 3–5.

5 . Ensure you have a process to continuously evaluate your vision and use cases at least every 6 months.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

That AI is taking the role of the human engineer. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the better the engineer you are, the more AI will help you deliver outsized value to your clients by enabling you to assess more options and outcomes than have time or budget for today… and allow you to explore those creative itches you have probably had many times over.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Go towards the pain.” Oftentimes the best outcomes are on the other side of the hard decisions.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

People. At the end of the day its about the team. Do we have the right people in the right roles for today and the next 1–2 years? Are they incentivized properly? Ultimately I spend 50% of my time on people, so this is my #1 focus as CEO.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Force everyone to Assume Positive Intent, all the time.

How can our readers further follow you online?

My LinkedIn page, as well as my Co-Founder Adam Tank’s

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.