Beyond the buzzwords: how real AI startups are transforming HR

In a burgeoning marketplace brimming with AI HR offerings, certain startups work hard to carve out a niche for themselves
Duncan Casemore


By Duncan Casemore, CTO and Co-Founder of Applaud


Let's face it, the HR tech space is buzzing with AI these days. From chatbots answering candidate FAQs to recruitment tools promising perfect matches, it seems like every other startup claims to be the next big thing in AI-powered HR. While the potential is exciting, navigating this landscape requires careful consideration of both the immense possibilities and the ethical implications.

Why the urgency for AI in HR?

The rise of AI HR startups is a response to a critical need. HR departments are constantly battling to keep pace with the demands of a changing workforce. Manual tasks eat up valuable time, personalised experiences are often lacking, and data-driven decision-making can be a challenge. AI offers a powerful solution, promising to automate repetitive tasks, personalise the employee journey, and generate valuable insights from HR data.

Looking ahead, the future of HR is undoubtedly intertwined with AI. And there are some great examples of startups at the forefront of this evolution, pioneering solutions that will redefine how we work and manage people. But with great power comes great responsibility, and ethical considerations must remain fundamental.

A look at innovative AI HR startups

The AI HR startup landscape is brimming with innovation. Here, I take a closer look at three companies that are leveraging AI in powerful ways within the HR function, and that I see making waves:

Paradox: This startup leverages conversational AI for chatbots that handle repetitive tasks like scheduling interviews and initial screenings. This frees HR professionals for strategic work, streamlines hiring, and improves candidate experience with 24/7 availability and faster responses.

Talespin: Talespin offers an end-to-end solution using AI to create immersive learning experiences. Employees can hone their skills through interactive simulations, replicating real-world scenarios without risks or costs. Talespin personalises learning based on individual styles, nurturing deeper engagement and exploration of unique career paths.

Eightfold: Going beyond recruitment, Eightfold's AI platform offers a comprehensive suite for talent management. From acquisition and onboarding to development and retention, Eightfold helps unleash employee potential. Their AI analyses vast data sets to identify top talent, predict flight risk, and personalise career development plans, prioritising human potential without bias.

What makes these startups stand out? Well, it's their laser focus on specific pain points within HR, coupled with a commitment to ethical and human-centric approaches. Paradox streamlines hiring with AI, while Talespin fosters deeper learning through personalisation. Eightfold prioritises human potential with AI-powered talent management solutions that eliminate bias.

HR professionals and AI: partners, not rivals
Despite the exciting and endless possibilities around AI, the question remains: how? Who owns it? How will HR and IT work together to make it happen?

Here lies a potential point of friction. HR understands workforce needs, while IT possesses technical expertise. Here, collaboration and clear communication is really important. By defining clear roles, HR can select the AI solution that aligns with their strategic goals. IT then ensures smooth implementation and ongoing support. However, successful AI adoption goes beyond technology. HR and IT, working as a team, can be the key drivers in championing employee buy-in. This is especially important when the technology feels new and unfamiliar.

Some HR professionals might also feel apprehensive about AI, fearing job displacement or a loss of control. However, ignoring this technology altogether could put them even more at a disadvantage. A healthy dose of scepticism is important, though. HR professionals should feel empowered to ask critical questions about the data and algorithms used in AI solutions and ensure they are free from bias, and that there’s a human "sense check" for every decision the AI makes.

By embracing AI and developing a tech-savvy mindset, HR can become a leader in shaping the future of work and a driver of positive change. AI can augment their capabilities, not replace them. HR professionals will be able to leverage this powerful technology to create a more efficient, engaging, and rewarding work environment for everyone.

The balancing act: ethics and the human touch

AI is a powerful tool, but it's important to remember that it's just that – a tool. The human touch remains irreplaceable in HR. Empathy, creativity, and critical thinking are essential for building a strong company culture, creating meaningful connections with employees, and navigating complex workplace issues. AI should augment these human capabilities, not replace them.

The best AI HR startups understand this. They focus on solutions that streamline processes, free up HR professionals to focus on high-value tasks and empower them to make better data-driven decisions. They also prioritise transparency and fairness in their algorithms, ensuring that AI is used ethically and responsibly.

The future of HR is not about robots taking over. It's about humans and AI working together as a powerful team. AI is a sophisticated tool that empowers HR professionals to excel. Together, humans and AI can create a future of work that is more efficient, engaging, and rewarding for everyone. Organisations that embrace this future will be well-positioned to attract, develop, and retain top talent in the years to come. So, keep your eye on startups and other enterprises that are already doing this so well – they are paving the path to a brighter, more efficient, future. 


Duncan co-founded Applaud and has served as its Chief Technology Officer and as a member of our board of directors since February 2010. Prior to founding Applaud, Duncan spent 10 years advising organisations on enterprise HR technology deployment, and before that worked in Oracle's own HR Development team building out their core HCM products.

Written by
Duncan Casemore
Written by
April 4, 2024