Women in Engineering: Karen Caswelch, CEO of SciArt Software
Roopinder Tara posted on November 09, 2018 |
Generative design startup cites speedy, optimized results as its big advantage

SciArt Software CEO Karen Caswelch demands attention. She was at ASSSES 2018 with a new product to promote and not shy about flagging down journalists to help her do so. She wanted to talk about Pareto, which does generative design (GD).

Did she know there were half dozen GD companies at the conference, all of which had been around longer? What made her product different?

It’s way faster. Sixty times faster. She got our attention. Clearly and patiently, Caswelch explained how Pareto differs, its capabilities, and why it is a gem and a deal.

Who Is Caswelch?

Karen Caswelch, SciArt Software CEO
Karen Caswelch
CEO, SciArt Software
Caswelch was introduced to Praveen Yadav last year by tech matchmaker, Brad Holtz, then CEO of Cyon Research and COFES shot caller. At the time, Yadav was the lone developer commercializing the magical code able to generate shapes much faster than any other GD program. He helped develop Pareto from routines created over 10 years at the University of Wisconsin–Madison by Chief Science Officer Krishnan Suresh, who found existing GD codes too slow so wrote his own programs.

Yadav was encountering the typical dilemma of successful one-man startups. Pareto was selling so well that he found himself stretched thin supporting customers. This left him little time to market it, sell it and expand the business. He needed a CEO.

“I know someone,” Holtz said.

Yadav was fortunate Caswelch was available. She had helped four tech startups and was looking for her next gig. Yadav could not have dreamed of landing a CEO that had graduated from MIT with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Harvard Business School with an MBA, or who was an ex-executive from GM. She had done big business working for Allison Transmission when it was part of GM. “We took Allison's incoming supplier quality rejections from 600 PPM to under fifteen.,” Caswelch said. It was a job that shuttled her between the Detroit area and Indianapolis.

Her career has required multiple relocations. Born in Milwaukee, Wis., to an African-American father and white mother, the family stayed in Milwaukee long enough to have four children. After completing her education in Boston, she held jobs in Detroit, Singapore, Indianapolis and Las Vegas. Now, she’s come full circle to Wisconsin for SciArt Software, which is based in Madison.

Caswelch moves around because she refuses to manage remotely. It has to be hands on. In order for this to work, she told Yadav, “I'm going to move in with you.” It was not a popular decision with her husband, even after he understood “moving in” meant only relocating to Madison.

Once in Madison, she wasted little time in taking the first step toward expansion: getting capital. The company, which has five people in the Madison office, recently announced a $530,000 investment from the Idea Fund of La Crosse.


“Give me the fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself.” Vilfredo Pareto

Vilfredo Pareto, Italian economist, came up with a way to analyze data that bears his name. A Pareto analysis helps determine which are the most significant factors in an outcome. SciArt Software runs a Pareto analysis. To Caswelch’s surprise, no one had yet named a product after it.

Pareto, the GD product, entered the public arena when it competed with established GD programs in the 2013 GE Jet Engine Bracket Challenge held at GrabCAD. While the winner was able to get an 83 percent weight reduction, Pareto was able to reduce weight by 73 percent.

“Our software did it in 15 minutes,” said Caswelch, who guesses the winners may have spent weeks whittling away at the part. “We may not have got to the 83 percent weight savings, but I’m sure we got most of the way there in a fraction of the time.”

Pareto finds the optimum solution using Pareto-based analysis. As opposed to most GD software, in which the weight reduction is an input, Pareto gives weight as an output. In other words, according to Caswelch, “With other GD products, you have to tell the software to reduce 25% of weight and the topology optimization attempts to find a possible shape for that particular weight reduction (it may not be successful). With Pareto, specify your design and manufacturing constraints, and the topology optimization finds the lightest possible shape that meets those constraints.” She said you just let Pareto run, and it comes back with the optimum shape, which could be a far greater weight reduction than imagined.

Pareto is currently in beta stage but still being used by 25 companies. It runs on ordinary desktops, without the need for GPU-laden workstations, Caswelch said. It currently uses geometry from SolidWorks and PTC’s Creo.

It didn’t take her long to notice the product was practically being given away.

“It was being sold at $1,000 a license,” Caswelch said. “The first things I did was raise the price, and that’s still under what established companies are charging. Way under. $10,00 to $20,000 is the norm for generative design software. We think software must be under $6,000 to achieve democratization.”

They settled on $3,000 a seat for Pareto.

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