Cooper Harris speaks on her entrepreneurial journey, future of AI in 2023 Newhall Lecture

The Klickly CEO and founder delivered the 2023 C. Ashton Newhall Lecture on Nov. 7 in the LaRose Digital Theatre at the Ernest A. Koury Sr. Business Center.

Cooper Harris delivered the 2023 Newhall Lecture speaking on her journey from an established actor in Hollywood to founding and leading a top brand in the technological space.

The C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture Series, named for Elon University trustee C. Ashton Newhall ’98 and hosted by the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, brings successful entrepreneurs to campus to share their knowledge and experience managing the risks and rewards of entrepreneurial endeavors.

Harris speaking during the 2023 C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture series hosted by the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Harris, the CEO and founder of Klickly, an impulse payment platform that combines payments, commerce and big data to offer real-time consumer insights and revenue growth for brands, said that her pivot into tech entrepreneurship was not the original plan.

As a 12-year-old, I wanted to be a creative force to change the world,” Harris told those gathered in LaRose Digital Theatre on Tuesday. “This was my passion and specifically I knew that I had to be an actor. What I didn’t know then was how well it would prepare me for a career as an entrepreneur and as CEO.”

She went to UNC School of the Arts and upon graduation she found work as an actor. From soap operas such as “Young and the Restless” and “As the World Turns” to Hollywood blockbusters, Harris found herself in a solid position as an established actor.

And in her acting career, she learned three valuable lessons that have proved invaluable to her as an entrepreneur. “It taught me emotional intelligence, discipline and how to speak in front of human beings,” she said.

Harris realized that even as a working actor, she would have to find something more secure than the entertainment industry. And she knew that whatever industry she chose would have to allow her to exercise her creativity as she was as a performer.

“I found an alternative avenue to be creative, a field where I could grow an asset as a founder and builder of businesses in the tech space,” Harris said.
While all of her training to this point was in acting, Harris found that hackathons, a 24-to-48-hour-long competition of a team to create the best business idea, were a great way to get experience as well as build a network of tech experts.

She attended and hosted hackathons with SXSW, Facebook, Brinkley and others and developed many ideas. Most of them fell through for various reasons, mostly funding. But Klickly was the one that stuck.

Harris spoke about Klickly, the company she founded and is CEO of.

Early on, Klickly developed the technology to allow consumers to buy directly within an ad or a marketing message. One of the company’s first campaigns was with Eminem where Klickly helped with the the sell of his albums and merchandise.

Next came partnerships with YouTube influencers and brands such as the Red Cross, L’Oreal and Google. Since its founding, Klickly has generated “millions” in outside capital and has successfully utilized artificial intelligence.

“We began very simply,” Harris said. “Using AI, specifically machine learning which is a subset of AI, to help make product categorization decisions. Instead of having a person … review a million product images one by one, could a machine do this much better and much faster. The answer was yes.”

Harris spent some of her lecture speaking on the future of AI. She said that AI is here to stay and it is best to think about how it can be leveraged by humans to improve productivity rather than to shun its existence.

“When we’re talking about the future, the more open our minds, the more likely we’ll be to respond creatively using that creative engine to whatever happens,” Harris said. “Whether it’s a creative endeavor or starting a new company or leveraging AI to address climate change, no one knows what’s coming so anything you can dream of is possible.”

Alyssa Martina, Executive Director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Lecturer, speaks before Harris delivered her lecture.

Three Doherty Center interns, Clay Burns ’25, Maddy Burgess ’24 and Joshua Mason ’25, introduced Harris for the lecture and Mason facilitated a Q&A with the audience.

Alyssa Martina, executive director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, wrapped up the event with a few more directed questions to Harris. One was about what is the next chapter in her life.

“Once Klickly has lived its entire lifespan, I’m really interested in putting together a think-tank or lab or venture studio around how do we build AI for good that creates guardrails nad guidelines for what it would look like to have AI that’s helpful for humanity versus the opposite,” Harris said.