Leo Zlimen is CEO of Ladris, a startup that provides AI-based software for emergency management. (Photos by Terence Duffy)

Young Professionals: Leo Zlimen

Meet the emerging leaders who envision a bright future for the Capital Region

Back Article Jun 14, 2024 By Graham Womack

Leo Zlimen

CEO, Ladris

This story is part of our June 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

A few years ago, Leo Zlimen got a demonstration of why the type of software his company develops is so important.

Zlimen, 25, is CEO of Ladris, a fast-growing startup based in Nevada City. The company provides AI-based software for emergency management, including modeling for evacuations, fires and critical infrastructure. 

It’s the sort of software that can help local governments know what to do in the event of a disaster like a wildfire. And on Aug. 4, 2021, a day Zlimen visited a fire station in north San Juan to pitch his service, the Camp Fire broke out. Zlimen saw a large smoke column on the horizon as he was leaving the station.

“We want to build a billion dollar company; you can put that right in the bullet. That’s what we’re going to do.”

“It was a precursor, foreshadowing that the problem that we would solve was literally very much right in front of us,” Zlimen says.

In recent years in California, wildfires have seemed like an overwhelming problem, costing untold lives and billions in property damage. For beleaguered local governments, overcoming the problem might take help from unconventional allies — people like Zlimen.

Raised in Nevada City, Zlimen is the son of parents who met while working at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Zlimen’s father came from what is now Croatia in the early 1990s to do nuclear physics at the lab. Zlimen’s mother was the assistant secretary for Glenn Seaborg, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist at the lab.

Leo Zlimen sits on a picnic table in Cesar Chavez Park during the Thursday Bodega Days farmers market.

Later, Zlimen’s father got into doing database work during the dot-com era, with his clients including Oregon-based WillaKenzie Estate winery, whose founder, Bernard Lacroute, was an early executive of legendary, defunct tech company Sun Microsystems. Today, Lacroute sits on Ladris’ board.

For college, Zlimen triple-majored in Arabic, Near Eastern civilizations and history at UC Berkeley and roomed with someone he grew up with in Nevada City, Bowen Kyle. While they were in school, a lot was happening with AI, which has boomed in recent years.

“We were just in the right place at the right time, technologically,” Zlimen says.

Zlimen and Kyle founded Ladris in June 2019, while both were at Berkeley. Kyle is now the company’s chief technology officer.

Ladris now has roughly 20 employees, has received seed funding and is pursuing Series A funding. But the road to this point has been anything but simple. “As a young, early-stage company, everything is a challenge,” Zlimen says.

The company has succeeded, in part, by avoiding the pitfalls that can plague other startups: focusing excessively on sales, rather than creating a solid product that solves a clear problem in the marketplace; welcoming the wrong kinds of investors; and not getting a good team into place. 

On that last point, Zlimen is particularly thankful, saying that Ladris’ mentors and supporters are “why we’re where we are.” These people include the company’s outside counsel Eric Little, its corporate development lead Tim Yamauchi and vice president of business development Stefanie Fenton.

 That said, Zlimen doesn’t want to settle for Ladris’ success to this point. “We want to build a billion dollar company; you can put that right in the bullet,” he says. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

Zlimen doesn’t have a ton of free time at the moment. What time he does have goes to pursuits like watching basketball and playing the sport recreationally. He also plays piano and spends time with his girlfriend.

Still, he doesn’t appear to regret the path he’s on and knows what he’d say to himself five years ago.

“Just keep doing it,” Zlimen says. “Everything will not work out the way that you want it to. But if you do the fundamentals correctly, then even though there will be these ups and downs, you will ultimately be rewarded for having done the little things.”

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