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Startup Sector Embraces Big Data


When T4G and the New Brunswick Information Technology Council staged the Big Data Congress in Saint John on Jan. 24, they wanted to roll out a few of the region’s start-ups dealing in data analytics. They didn’t have to look far. They assembled the bosses of three of the leading regional data-analytics companies who displayed the cutting-edge technology being produced to attack this burgeoning market.

Big Data is in the process of pouring through mountains of data, usually produced by digital actions, and determining how people will act, what they’ll buy, and so on. The three Atlantic Canadian poster boys for this new movement are:

 •Tapajyoti Das of Halifax-based LeadSift, which mines social media posts, especially in Twitter, to generate sales leads for such businesses as car dealers and financial companies.

 •Jeff Thompson of Fredericton-based UserEvents. This start-up’s technology alerts corporations when customers are having trouble with online transactions, so it can contact them, help them, and try to sell more products.

 •Chris Baker of Saint John-based IPSNP. Its product, Hydra, uses semantics to search through thousands or even tens of thousands of databases that are accessible via the Internet.

The trio was rounded out by Cindy Gordon of Toronto-based SalesChoice, which produces an online administrative aid for salespeople. The company has ties to the region, and Jeff Thompson is on SalesChoice’s board of advisers.

 “In a world where there’s a data war brewing, these guys are selling the guns,” said Big Data Congress moderator Trevor MacAusland, the head of PropelICT, when he introduced the group. But they’re not the only ones with an arsenal for sale. The organizers could have selected from myriad other Atlantic Canadian companies that have developed new algorithms to analyze data.

For example, St. John’s-based Afinin Labs Inc. has enlisted a financial institution to test its software, Zenquant, which predicts the direction of the stock market. IntroHive of Fredericton pours over the emails contacts and LinkedIn connections of a company’s employees to find whether anyone has ties to a potential client. And Karma Gaming of Halifax has launched a subsidiary, Distyllr, the world’s leading analytical tool for the social-gaming industry. The list goes on and is growing rapidly.

The start-up segment grasps the potential of data analytics and is developing young companies that can compete in this growing space. But the road isn’t going to be an easy one. They have the same challenges as everyone one else in finding capital and customers. The thing that stands out about this field is how difficult it is to find specialists in it, a point Thompson raised during his segment at the Big Data Congress.

A data-analytics specialist is a rare breed, indeed. These people have to take an endless mountain of information and pull meaningful content from it, then work with managers and clients to try to understand what it means and what to do with it. Your textbook nerd often lacks the wherewithal or the education to do all of this. And the problem is exacerbated because no university offers a degree in data analytics.

Here’s a factor making the problem worse: This field is growing so strongly that the U.S. is expected to be short 190,000 analytics specialists by 2018. It means that data-related start-ups in the region are going to face vicious competition for talent for a long time to come. It also means there’s great opportunity ahead. Regional universities are working to develop programs in data analytics; if they get it right, the economic benefits could be huge. First, the universities will increase enrollment, and second, it would be a huge leg up for the data start-ups because they would get first crack at a lot of great talent. So, bring it on.

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