Courtesy of Financial Times
"What helps to understand [big
data] better is to think of it in terms of data being the raw
material, like coal or oil, that you get out of the ground and then
there are lots of different data refineries that can start to
refine that data in order to create higher priced products," said
Bjoern Herrmann, chief executive of Startup Genome.
ABOARD THE STARTUP TRAIN - Big Data is the
latest tech concept you can't avoid, and on Wednesday it cropped up
on a train travelling from Toronto to Montreal for the
International Startup Festival.
Every time you enter information about yourself on the Internet,
it adds another layer to already-massive mountains of data,
fuelling the phenomenon known broadly as Big Data.
Facebook Inc., for instance, collects information about its
users to sell advertising, and startup companies are increasingly
tapping into the trend, pinpointing their own opportunities to turn
raw data into useable and valuable information.
Aboard the Startup Train - a rail car full of budding
entrepreneurs, investors and mentors organized by Brydon Gilliss of
the Guelph, Ont.-based co-working group ThreeFortyNine - were
several startups with businesses based on the concept of Big
Alison Gibbins, CEO of Simplify Analytics Inc., launched a beta
version of her website BabySimplify.com during the five-hour train
"It helps expectant parents figure out what they need and don't
need for their baby. We do that with an interactive survey and we
use predictive analytics to determine their essentials, their
nice-to-haves and their not-for-yous," Ms. Gibbins said.
Also on the train were Lee Bremer and Faizal Karmali,
co-founders of Quinzee, a platform that lets users with smart
meters in their homes monitor their day-to-day energy
"Ontario's leading the charge globally with installation of
smart meters so there's all this data being collected about
people's energy use in real time that the utilities are starting to
give back to the consumers to empower them but haven't found the
best way to do it," Mr. Karmali said.
Using a combination of the smart meter data and personalized
customer information, the Quinzee software provides benchmarks on
where they stand compared to similar households in their
neighbourhood and helps them decide when it is most cost-effective
to run a load of laundry, for example.
"We realized there was a big mass of data sitting there that
should be empowering the average Ontarian to make better decisions
about their energy use," Mr. Karmali said.
At the festival itself, which runs from Wednesday evening to
Friday, several speakers will touch on Big Data.
"What helps to understand the space better is to think of it in
terms of data being the raw material, like coal or oil that you get
out of the ground, and then there are lots of different data
refineries that can start to refine that data in order to create
higher-priced products," said Bjoern Herrmann, chief executive of
His Palo Alto, Calif.-based company collects data from startup
businesses on key performance indicators such as the costs of user
acquisition and retention and uses an automated process to sift
through the data and turn it into reports the startups can use to
evaluate their relative strengths and weaknesses.
"The ability to allocate resources properly is very much driven
by your ability to process signals that are coming from the market
and coming from your own company," said Mr. Herrmann, who presents
on Thursday at the festival.
We want to give people the equivalent of a calculator for data
He noted that if a company realized it was spending more than
others on user acquisition but less on retention, it might put more
resources into improving the product.
More than 20,000 companies worldwide are using Startup Genome,
he said, and a platform for investors looking for the right moment
to invest in a startup is in beta testing.
Jonathan Gosier, founder of Philadelphia-based MetaLayer Inc.,
recognized the power in harnessing data when he was working in East
Africa and got involved with Ushahidi, a group that was mapping
citizen response during crisis events to try to validate real-time
information people were posting on social media.
Mr. Gosier, who is also speaking Thursday at the Startup
Festival, said he saw a larger opportunity in data beyond the issue
"Data technologies in general elude the reach of organizations
in terms of what they cost or how sophisticated they are to
The platform he and his team at MetaLayer developed uses
drag-and-drop technology to let anyone in a business analyze data,
not just the data scientists, who are hard to come by and
"We want to give people the equivalent of a calculator for data
science," he said.