Dec 20, 2023 | 5 min read

Sandeep Pandya

Podcast #221 Worker Centric AI


Exploring The ESG Revolution with Sandeep Pandya

Welcome to our podcast blog! In this episode, we are thrilled to host Sandeep Pandya, a purposeful and entrepreneurial C-level leader, the author of "The ESG Revolution," and the CEO of an intriguing new stealth startup.


Sandeep's Background: Sandeep Pandya brings a wealth of experience as a C-level leader with a proven track record in developing teams, products, and new markets across various technologies and industries. Sandeep Pandya's latest position was as the CEO of, an exciting AI joint venture backed by Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures and SeAH Global Inc., a major global steel conglomerate.


The mission of Under Sandeep's leadership, aims to enhance the safety of the world's industrial environments. Leveraging machine learning and computer vision solutions, the company aims to shift the safety paradigm from reactive to proactive, contributing significantly to industrial sustainability.


Sandeep's Thought Leadership: Recognized as a thought leader, Sandeep Pandya is a member of the Forbes Technology Council. His recent book, "The ESG Revolution: How Worker-Centric AI is Transforming Industrial Sustainability," delves into the intersection of artificial intelligence, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles, showcasing the transformative impact on industrial sustainability.


Educational Background: Sandeep holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management. He also earned a BS and MS in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Join us in this engaging podcast as we delve into The ESG Revolution with Sandeep Pandya. Gain insights into the future of industrial sustainability, AI's role, and a seasoned leader's innovative endeavors. Don't miss out on the opportunity to learn from Sandeep's experiences and visionary perspectives.


 Discussion Points:

  • Your Digital Thread: What would you consider your digital thread (the one or more thematic threads that define your digital industry journey)?
  • Technological Renaissance: In your Forbes bio, it said that you believe the world is experiencing a technological renaissance, one that will fundamentally reshape and improve the way people live, work, and play globally. What is creating this renaissance?
  • As mentioned, you were most recently the CEO of What were some of your notable solutions and wins?
  • Your book on ESG: You've recently authored The ESG Revolution: How Worker-Centric AI is Transforming Industrial Sustainability. What is 'Worker-centric AI,' and why is the topic so relevant today?
  • The Environment: Your book jacket mentions, "For decades, business leaders were taught to choose one: protect the environment or shareholders." What do you see that has changed to enable achieving both goals?
  • Industry 4 & 5: We are proponents of the EU Commission's Industry 5.0 initiative, with its three key focus areas of Sustainability, Resilience, and Human-Centricity. Do you see this new triple bottom line as an evolution of Industry 4.0 or a revolution?
  • AI & Sustainability: Your book explicitly calls out the enabling effect of prescriptive analytics. Can you describe this effect and share an example of this playing out?
  • What's Next: I see you've recently founded a stealth startup. What are you working on, and when do you expect to come out of stealth?
  • Inspiration Source: In closing, where do you find your inspiration? (i.e., book recommendations, articles, podcasts, people, etc.)



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View Transcript



Ken: Good day, and welcome to episode 221 of our Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. Today, I'm delighted to host Sandeep Pandya, the author of "The ESG Revolution" and the CEO of a new stealth startup. Sandeep is a purposeful and entrepreneurial C-level leader with a successful track record of developing teams, products, and new markets across various technologies and industries. He most recently served as the CEO of, an AI joint venture backed by Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures and SeAH Global Incorporated, a global steel conglomerate.


Everguard AI's mission is to enhance the safety of the world's industrial environment through machine learning and computer vision solutions, driving a paradigm shift in safety from reactive to proactive approaches. Sandeep is a recognized thought leader and a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He is also the recent author of the book "The ESG Revolution: How Worker-Centric AI is Transforming Industrial Sustainability."


Sandeep holds an MBA from Northwestern University's JL Kellogg Graduate School of Management and BS and MS degrees in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Sandeep, welcome to our Digital Thread podcast.



Sandeep: Thanks for having me, Ken. I appreciate being on.



Ken: It's really good to have you. I appreciate you taking the time out. I know you're very busy between writing books and doing a stealth startup, so it's great that we're finally having a chance to connect. We call this the Digital Thread podcast and talk much about one's digital thread, like, "How did we get here?" I'm curious: what would you consider to be your digital thread? In other words, those are thematic threads that define your digital industry journey.



Sandeep: Thanks for the question. Looking back at my career journey and the opportunities I've had the privilege to be part of, I recognize that I've been a technologist for more than three decades. It all began with my education as an engineer and a computer scientist. I initially worked in large, pure tech companies within the wireless infrastructure space, focusing on devices, semiconductors, and more.


For a considerable period, I was a pure technology professional. However, what I consider my 'digital thread,' especially in the last decade, involves figuring out how to leverage advanced technologies – deep technologies encompassing artificial intelligence, computer vision, and sensor fusion, among others. These are now integral parts of the tech landscape. My focus shifted to bringing these technologies into foundational industries, transforming sectors that aren't typically associated with advanced technologies daily.


In the past ten years, I've had the opportunity to help launch two venture-backed startups from scratch, taking on roles as employee three and employee one. These startups were specifically dedicated to integrating AI into commercial trucking, the steel and metals industry, construction, mining, warehousing, and more. This journey has been exhilarating, as it comes with various challenges that we can discuss further.


Another aspect of the digital thread is bringing these deep technologies into foundational industries while also considering the ESG movement: the environmental, social, and corporate governance revolution. It's fascinating to explore how these technologies can enable positive change in this context.



Ken: In a way, you've essentially described Momenta and its investment thesis. I appreciate how you emphasized foundational industries, and we truly believe that ESG represents outcomes—what we refer to as the industrial impact we're striving for in the end. This promises to be an insightful conversation.

I noticed in your Forbes bio that you believe the world is undergoing a technological renaissance that will fundamentally reshape and improve how people live, work, and play globally. Could you share more about this renaissance and the factors contributing to it?




Sandeep: When I wrote that particular part of the bio almost a decade ago, a lot has happened in the world, both technologically and from an ESG perspective. However, I believe that the renaissance is continuing because, in the last couple of decades, and even more recently, in just the last several years, there has been a confluence of seemingly disparate technological disruptions. These disruptions, akin to what Malcolm Gladwell described in his book 'Tipping Point,' create a movement or a change that represents a point of no return—something going viral, the genie out of the bottle.


I feel that there has been a convergence of these various technological disruptions that have come together, enabling tackling really challenging problems—issues that might have seemed intractable 40 or 50 years ago are now tractable and feasible to address. Examples include climate change, efforts to make global industry more efficient, and the democratization of knowledge. People can discuss these topics seriously due to the confluence of various technologies. We can delve into some of these technologies in a moment.




Ken: Perhaps, to put a point on this, let's talk about your most recent work with Everguard AI. To help our audience understand the company and your role there, what were some of your most notable solutions and wins?



Sandeep: I take pride in the work I and the team, which I helped build from scratch as employee one, accomplished. When recruited by BCG to launch the company, we successfully built a world-class team specializing in artificial intelligence, computer vision, and deep tech – a truly global team. What made our team particularly interesting was the scarcity of individuals. Ken, as you probably know better than most, works with heavy industry and others. There aren't many AI and computer vision experts who have experience in industrial safety and sustainability problems. It was a unique challenge to find technically sharp talent willing to take on challenges outside their usual expertise. I'm proud that we built a team that not only met but excelled in tackling such challenges, earning recognition from the University of Texas at San Antonio's Department of Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering. They ranked Everguard's AI industrial safety system as the top solution in the market compared to various other players, both large and small. This recognition validated our work in a pure technology and benefits perspective within an academic environment.


From a commercial perspective, which is crucial for technology diffusion, Everguard's flagship product, Sentri360, had gone commercial even when I left. We secured a multi-digit backlog in millions, showcasing its commercial success. Seeing our technology adopted by major players in the metals industry, such as US Steel, Nucor, Gerdau, and Zekelman Industries, was gratifying. Additionally, we expanded into construction tech, mining, warehousing, and other industries I mentioned. Overall, I take great pride in our accomplishments during my nearly four years of leadership, and I wish the team continued success. I am applying the lessons learned in different places.



Ken: We'll certainly get to that in a few minutes. Whatever could have compelled you to leave a rocket ship like that must be interesting. Before we get to that, though, I'd like to go a little deeper into your book. You recently authored "The ESG Revolution: How Worker-Centric AI Is Transforming Industrial Sustainability." Tell us a little bit: what does worker-centric AI mean to you? Why is this topic so relevant today?



Sandeep: When we were at Everguard, the term itself was trademarked because it was unique; no one had a mark like that. It was less about owning the mark but more about the psychology of how I perceive the world and the media's tendency to view AI or artificial intelligence. One could argue that the term 'software' has been replaced by AI, right? People don't often talk about software anymore; it's assumed to be transformed and written now in a manner that aligns with the best practices of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

What prompted my reflection on this is that when people discuss AI, it's often portrayed as a standalone, sanitized technology enabler. Throughout my career, whether in the wireless industry or elsewhere, I've always viewed technology as having a transformational impact on society. For AI to be meaningful, it must add social value. Otherwise, that particular aspect of AI becomes irrelevant. Worker-centric AI, to me, felt like an opportunity to approach AI more generatively and consider how it can be transformational and beneficial to workers, particularly industrial workers who, as you and I know, face a distinct set of challenges in their environments. Additionally, industrial companies have their challenges within the community.


Worker-centric AI focuses on the utility and benefits of AI to create an envelope around the industrial worker. This encompasses personal aspects such as wellness, work attire, workspace, and the interaction between worker and machine in these environments. How can AI enhance these aspects?


Considering that these workers often operate in harsh environments with air, noise, and light pollution, monitoring their surroundings during moving goods, vehicles, and other machinery becomes crucial. It's essentially about making the inside of the factory floor sustainable so the company can project a greater sustainability envelope outside.

Lastly, at the corporate governance level, in the ESG world, as you know, boards of directors are pressuring C-suites to be socially and ESG-conscious. This can only happen if they're working with good information. At the corporate governance layer for compliance reporting, site-level analytics, and organization-level analytics, you need to provide insights into what's happening with the workers and their environments up to the board level. I coined the term 'worker-centric AI' to encompass that full stack, that ESG stack. Everguard's mission was to deliver on that, and I continued this mission with my new company.



Ken: There was recently an article about responsible AI, or RAI, as they're now acronyming it. Somebody at Rockwell promoted it, and we have a lot of respect for it. It's interesting to note your use of the term 'generative' in your discussion a moment ago, which I'm sure was intentional. With all the hype around Gen AI, ChatGPT, and the recent discussions about Open AI over the last couple of weekends, there seems to be a second wave, or some may argue, a third wave of voices questioning whether we are moving too fast. Are we doing the right thing? Are we achieving the outcomes we hope for? It's a very timely topic. You wrote about it; you probably foresaw it. I certainly didn't anticipate it, especially regarding the generative AI discussions.




Sandeep: Sure, no, no, you're exactly right. It comes back to the intentionality of the organization, especially considering all the drama surrounding Open AI and the recent news. At its core level, there seem—and again, I'm not an insider; all I know is what I read—to be connections to the ESG movement. We've discussed this before, and we share similar views. It boils down to the intentionality of the organization, what they believe their company brand stands for, and their mission as a team. Both you and I understand that technology can be used in different ways. With a well-intentioned team having a clear mission and UN SDG goals or Industry 5.0 goals in mind, positive outcomes are achievable. Conversely, a team without good intentions can make the wrong choices. Ultimately, it'll always come down to the people—the individuals running the organization.




Ken: Well said. It's interesting; in your book jacket, you mentioned that for decades, business leaders were taught they must choose one of two paths: either protect the environment or protect shareholders. I'm curious: what do you see that has changed to enable effectively achieving both goals now?



Sandeep: It's interesting and reminds me of a book I read on this journey over the last decade. John Doerr, the renowned venture capitalist, wrote 'Speed and Scale,' a book I found outstanding because it starts with the assumption that business leaders, government leaders, and society are well-intentioned. They care about things like the climate and many other aspects that we all recognize as the right things to do. According to Doerr, the key is that they lack a clear, actionable plan with metrics and measurements, something within arm's reach, creating a roadmap.


This perspective resonated with me as I launched Everguard and embarked on the next venture. It made me want to write my book, 'The ESG Revolution.' Previously, what held folks back, even if they were well-intentioned, was the perception that integrating environmentally and socially responsible practices was too costly or disruptive. The prevailing thought was, 'We can't do the right thing now; we'll have to do it later when the cost comes down.' The shift that's causing this renaissance, enabling well-meaning companies to do the right thing, is the drop in the cost curve for enabling technologies.


Take clean energy, for example – the cost of solar panels has decreased by almost 90% over the last several years. This now challenges businesses to question why they wouldn't utilize wind and solar as an offset to coal or other fossil fuels when the cost has become more feasible.


Other factors are also at play, such as the technological disruptions I mentioned earlier. The end of Moore's Law, for those unfamiliar, states that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. Advanced wafer technologies have now reached transistor densities never before conceived. This allows the analysis of organizations and other complex problems in ways previously deemed infeasible. Software, as the most flexible enabler, plays a crucial role, often described as 'eating the world.' The cost curves for ESG-related technologies have come down, and the ability to solve problems with software within or around the enterprise has become more achievable.


If you're looking at your organization and score-carding it more holistically, considering human-centric, climate-centric, and profit-centric aspects – the triple bottom line – you now have both the cost points and the enabling technologies and software to accomplish those things. Again, with a well-intentioned management team, board, and shareholder community, I believe those organizations can move forward on these fronts.



Ken: You know we are proponents of the EU Commission's Industry 5.0 initiative with its three key focus areas: sustainability, resilience, and human-centricity. Those words should warm your heart. I'm going to throw you a bit of a curveball, though. Do you see this new triple bottom line as an evolution of Industry 4.0 or a revolution in and of itself?




Sandeep: I think people often like to consider things revolutionary. Still, an evolutionary perspective is generally more palatable for individuals like you and me who have been part of the industry for a considerable time, especially in heavy industry. The way these operations change, whether it's a working factory or just a 30-minute hiccup, can cause big problems. It might affect how much money we make, cost someone their job, or even shut down a whole factory. Looking at it as a gradual change is important when dealing with these basic industries, but remember, that's just my personal take on it.


However, looking at the Industry 5.0 initiative, I had the chance to revisit the EU's January 2021 report when they introduced the 5.0 thesis. The report describes it, I would say, in evolutionary terms. Instead of framing it as an evolution or revolution, it's more of an expansion. Reflecting on Industry 4.0, it was more of a techno-economic enabler in the form of digitization of industry. So, how is 5.0 different? It's not so much an evolution of the techno-economic piece; rather, it's an expansion of the socio-ecological or environmental points of view. This expansion adds to the basket of goods that represents how Industry 4.0 and 5.0 drive the industry as a whole.


I believe it's consistent with the UN sustainability development goals, with a particular focus on human-centric approaches globally and the environment, aligning with the 17 goals they have. I would call it an expansion or an evolution, not necessarily a revolution, because revolutions generally don't fare well in foundational industries.



Ken: Well said, especially since I just watched the movie "Napoleon" over the weekend.



Sandeep: There you go.



Ken: It starts with a revolution, which didn't end well for some people. But yours is a politically correct yet very accurate answer, which I appreciate. You mentioned earlier using the word 'confluence.' In some sense, it is a confluence of Industry 4.0 and ESG. To me, what the EU Commission has done well is they have put them together so that they don't feel like separate initiatives or, to your point in your book jacket earlier, alternative paths you can take. You can do the same. You can have it and at that.


In my mind, Sean O'Reagain is one of the leaders of this at the EU Commission, and he purposely, on every slide, puts in the corner of it, 'It's an evolution, not a revolution.' Part of it is he gets a lot of feedback from his German constituents. I also do for my US ones, 'Yeah, we haven't even gotten to Industry 4.0 yet.' But I think there is a bit of revolutionary thinking because this is already taking it one step further. Productivity plus people plus planet is how I'd like to think about it. Good answer, though.

In the book, you specifically call out the enabling effect of prescriptive analytics. Can you describe this effect and share an example of how you've seen this playing out?



Sandeep: I think this is, again, part of what technology now allows folks to do that they wish they could have done 20, 30, 50 years ago. It's about leveraging the utility and benefits of artificial intelligence, for example. It could be other technologies too, but let's call them deep technologies, advanced technologies, to essentially be proactive in and around what we care about the most in these workplaces, which is the workers and how they interact with the environment. You want them to be productive. Still, it's also about taking care of them and ensuring that the company operates sustainably, as we discussed with the ESG add-on to the 4.0 backbone. It's about being proactive and prescriptive. It starts with being predictive. The power of AI, for instance, and digitizing the organization's manufacturing allows you to account for what is natural when you have humans in the loop, which are blind spots. You can get things like inattention or change blindness; you just don't see the differences. Cognitive dissonance, as we know, is when you can like eating hamburgers, but you also know that the effect of eating meat has a negative impact on the climate. So, cognitive dissonance and any other phenomena that prevent humans from seeing what we'll call an objective truth regarding, for instance, safety, sustainability, or danger in the workplace.


With the power of AI, for instance, and big data analytics at the Edge or up in the Cloud, wherever you are at the enterprise level, you can start to look for what I would call triggers or trace elements that ultimately lead to something bad happening. It goes from being predictive, which is, hey, something bad is going to happen, to prescriptive, if you can intervene. I'll give you a simple example, and I can give you a second one if you want. In industrial worker safety, one of the number one causes of injury on the job is heat stress in harsh environments. Whether you're working on a construction site out in the desert or even just in Southern California in the summertime, or if you're inside a coal mine or working near the blast furnace in a steel mill, you can have a temperature inside the suit of 130° or 140°, so heat stress is an issue. That's a bad thing because it can lead to dehydration. Then dehydration—often we're dehydrated and don't even know it, which can lead to fatigue. What happens when people are tired? When people are tired, their body posture is generally poor. It's not optimal. If you're lifting something, for instance, that can be an issue, and you tend to get sloppy. That leads to musculoskeletal disorders, and one of the number one causes of workmen's compensation claims and lost days of productivity on the job are back injuries. The construction site loses trades on the job or someone who operates the blast furnace because they have some kind of back injury. It was related to detecting heat stress and intervening, telling the gentleman or lady, 'Hey, you need to hydrate or take a break.' We deployed wearable sensors tied in with AI to detect those things, including awkward upper torso movements. We brought together core physiology plus upper torso movements to detect heat stress and fatigue, ultimately cutting back on back injuries and reducing lost productivity. That represents a predictive and prescriptive chain that ultimately makes the company more efficient and the workers happier and healthier.



Ken: Okay, I can't wait anymore. Now, I have to jump to the big question. Tell us about this stealth startup that you've started. What are you working on? When do you expect to come out of stealth?



Sandeep: Thanks for that. It follows the theme you mentioned earlier – the generative AI. I'll call it a tipping point crossed with open AI and other companies jumping in and putting so many resources into it. It is, I think, a meaningful tipping point. Open AI was the fastest product introduction in the history of products, with 100 million monthly users added in just two months. It has grown since, and now there are so many alternatives. That inflection point got me to think about how I can continue to explore the theme of worker-centric AI and leverage the generative AI movement, particularly the large language model movement that we see being used by kids to help with their homework, while doctors are using it for research and other applications. But without giving too much away because we're in stealth mode, we looked at – not industrial workers on the factory line but something upstream, which is not how products get made but how products are designed. The engineers and designers who are in highly technical industries, whether it's civil engineering, environmental engineering, aerospace, or medical devices, are bound by compliance requirements, regulations, building codes, etc. It seemed like a natural fit to take advantage of the power of generative AI, particularly large language models, and apply them to the world of product design engineering.


You might wonder, 'What's the social value add?' When you look at the cost, for instance, engineering change orders because a compliance requirement was missed way upstream when the building was being designed, or the plane was being designed, or the medical device was being designed, if you can nip it in the bud there, if you can catch it right there using the power of generative AI, then the downstream impact is far lower, and it may be completely mitigated. I founded a company with a co-founder this summer after leaving Everguard. We're probably coming out of stealth mode in Q1. The alpha is built, and we're ready to market here, probably in a couple of weeks. It's exciting, and again, it aligns with the theme of using AI to help workers do their jobs better, ultimately creating social value.



Ken: Well, I have to commend your timing. Between Industry 5.0, all the current AI hype, and the overall interest in these areas, I don't think you could have chosen a better time to develop this and come out of stealth. Let's all keep our fingers crossed that the headwinds we've experienced in the economy will dissipate, as many VCs believe they will in Q1 or Q2 of next year. You might be entering a favorable valuation season with some exit potential. Did I mention that Momenta engages in venture capital investments in companies like that? I don't recall if we discussed that or not.




Sandeep: No, we haven't. But I follow that and would love to bring this to you at the right time.


Ken: Good. I look forward to that conversation. In closing, we always like to ask: Where do you find your personal inspiration?



Sandeep: I find that people represent the most intriguing elements throughout history. I look at not just original thinkers but also fearless ones—individuals who not only conceive original thoughts or concepts but also possess the courage of their convictions to effect change. This spans beyond technology, reaching across the arc of human history. We encounter civil rights leaders and environmental advocates like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Rachel Carson, the author of "Silent Spring," which delves into the harmful effects of pesticides and plays a pivotal role in the environmental movement. Notably, individuals such as Carson faced severe criticism from the chemical industry for taking a stand against pesticides and biocides. I am always impressed by those who generate original ideas, seek change, and confront immense resistance.


Ken, to some degree, you and I might agree on the ESG movement, sustainability, and the people fighting against climate change. However, in industry and technology, many days feel like an uphill battle against resistance rather than momentum. Thus, with firms like yours and your VC fund, along with the thoughtful leaders you collaborate with, I am hopeful that more fearless thinkers will emerge, willing to venture out and effect positive change for the benefit of society.



Ken: Well, I'm honored that you've referenced us among that list of forward thinkers or fearless leaders and thinkers, as you say, so thank you very much. Sandeep, thank you for sharing this time and these insights with us today.



Sandeep: Of course, it was a pleasure.



Ken: Believe me, it was my pleasure, and I know it'll be the audience's pleasure to listen to this when it is published. This has been Sandeep Pandya, author of "The ESG Revolution" and CEO of a new hot-gen AI stealth startup. Thank you for listening, and please join us for the next episode of our Digital Thread podcast series. We wish you a momentous day.

[The End]



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Connect with Sandeep!

What inspires Sandeep

Sandeep finds inspiration in individuals who fearlessly generate innovative ideas and possess the conviction to drive meaningful change. Going beyond technology, he looks to figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Rachel Carson, whose work on "Silent Spring" was pivotal in the environmental movement. Sandeep admires those who confront significant resistance while pursuing change. Despite recognizing challenges in industry and technology, he aligns with Ken on the ESG movement. He remains hopeful that more fearless thinkers will emerge to bring about positive societal change.

Book Recommendation

Sandeep suggests a recently published book that has earned a spot on both the Amazon and USA Today Best Seller lists, a work to which he contributed as a co-author.

Persuasive Leadership: Mastering the Art of Influence in Business and in Life

Persuasive Leadership" is a guide to unlocking one's full leadership potential and mastering the art of persuasion. The book explores the wisdom of successful business visionaries who have used persuasion to elevate their collaborative abilities and achieve unparalleled success. Offering actionable insights for readers hungry to amplify their influence, the book covers the secrets to forging alliances, cultivating the gift of convincing others to take action, and understanding why persuasion is essential for exemplary leaders.