Driving a data revolution

Driving a data revolution

Guildford start-up Synoptica is developing a platform which could transform the way businesses across the globe source and sort data. Bryce Wilcock reports…

Data is big business. According to the latest research by sas and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), big data analytics is estimated to contribute an average of £40bn per year to the UK economy (a cumulative value of £241bn between 2015 and 2020).

The industry expected to accrue the greatest economic benefit from big data is manufacturing. The £57bn boost to this industry over the period 2015-2020 is expected to be driven by the diversity of firms in the industry and the variety of areas in which efficiency gains can be achieved through the use of big data analytics. For example, it could lead to improvements in supply chain management and enhancements in customer intelligence.

One company set to benefit in particular is Guildford start-up Synoptica, a software company which automates the way analysts create profiles of companies that they would tend to target. It helps organisations find, engage and manage innovative technology providers from across the globe – revolutionising the way companies source and sort data.

“Synoptica is a software company which helps organisations identify companies and then rank and continuously track the way they develop and grow,” said founder and CEO Stephen Mooney. “We help companies identify the right companies to work with using word associations and natural language processing from data found on the web; we also go beyond traditional software solutions helping create rich profiles of those companies. We track how those companies are changing over time based on metrics that are relevant to the customer.

“For example, we can help governments profile what types of businesses are operating within their constituency, for investors it helps identify SME’s that fit their investment criteria and are on the move without using traditional vanity metrics such as revenue or the number of employees, that type of thing. For sales people, it can help them find tailored leads. If you have a list of 1,000 leads there’s no point calling a company that doesn’t have a chief science officer, if you’re only targeting companies with a chief science officer. What we do is make lead lists smarter by using information that we automatically mine and filter from the web.”

Serial entrepreneur Stephen launched Synoptica in May last year having previously co-founded a very successful software as a service (SaaS) company at home in the US. Carbonetworks was one of the first SaaS technology companies helping businesses understand their energy and carbon position. After raising funding through a Venture Capitalist firm in California, he helped the company expand into the UK before selling it off in 2010.

From here, Stephen decided to stay in the UK and held a number of business advisory and mentoring roles before finally settling in Guildford. Working alongside SETSquared and The University of Surrey, he got involved in the Surrey 100 investment club which helps early-stage technology businesses in the South West to grow and succeed.

It was during his time at the University when he launched Synoptica. “The business has two sides to it,” Stephen said. “One is big data/natural language processing and the second is the engagement arm which is a means of acquiring richer data. Those two components were previously being managed by two different companies, Technotomy, which had spun out of the University of Surrey and iVeridis, a start-up I had founded.

“I discovered Technotomy whilst I was mentoring for SetSquared, it was a spin-out from the University founded by a former academic, Dr Bogdan L. Vrusias. Despite securing funding from InnovateUK, Technotomy hadn’t really found its place in the market. I saw the potential it had and approached him to work with me at iVeridis. I recognised that the two merged together could create a much more valuable outcome and Synoptica was born.”

The decision to merge the two companies proved a shrewd one and Synoptica really started to kick on. Securing contracts with the likes of Asda, The Crown Estate, UKTI and Imperial College London among others, Stephen realised the potential the business had to capitalise on the big data boom which was taking the world by storm.

“We’re doing something nobody else is doing by using metronatural-language processing and word associations and linking that back to an object, in this case the object is the company name. This allows us to take lists of 1,000s of companies and word associations and basically use machine learning to get smarter and smarter as to how we’re identifying a company and how we profile and shape that company.

“From a sales perspective its unlike anything I’ve ever been involved with in my career. We’re in the process of doing something so unique in such a growing market. We spent almost nine months building the application to get it where it is and a lot of it is still 12 months from where we want it to be. We’ve secured an InnovateUK grant which is also driving a lot of the development which isn’t fully developed yet. With regards to sales growth it has been exponential. We’ve went from four people a year ago to the 15 or so we have now. Revenue has also doubled since our launch.”

Growing from its small team of four tucked away at The University of Surrey just under a year ago, Synoptica now employs 12 fulltime members of staff at its office at Surrey Research Park and three contractors in Poland. Although their Surrey office has the capacity to house 20 members of staff at any given time, Stephen is already eyeing future expansion and is looking to capitalise on Surrey’s talented work pool.

“We can fit around 20 people in the office but we’re expecting to reach capacity fairly soon. We’re recruiting a couple of sales guys and a project manager over the coming months. We’re always looking for data scientists and data sales people as well as project managers. We have a great association with the University of Surrey and the talent coming out of there really fills a gap. People tend to be loyal, our employee turnover is pretty much nil and we have so many talented members of staff.

“The region has such a talented work pool which is a huge benefit. The entire region, the entire EM3, has some really interesting tech companies with talented people that don’t want to stay working with large corporates, they seem to like working for smaller companies where their decisions have a bit more of an impact. We can gain access to that, it’s fantastic.”

As well as support from SetSquared and The University of Surrey, Synoptica has also benefited from the Enterprise M3 Growth Hub, an expert advice and resource network that fuels the growth of local businesses. Synoptica has been working with Enterprise M3 growth champion Prem Gyani, who has spent more than 30 years developing cutting-edge companies in the IT sector.

Stephen said the Growth Hub had offered an extra dimension to Synoptica’s work. “We have had a great relationship with the Enterprise M3 Growth Hub and with Prem in particular. We have been able to tap into his huge experience and have benefited from the fact that he understood us very quickly.

“He has been able to open doors for us and put us in touch with people who have made a real difference to our business. It is both reassuring and essential that this support is there for aspirational and growing firms like us.

“Going forward, and with the Growth Hub’s support, I see the business becoming significantly bigger. I believe we’re on target to potentially becoming the largest database of SME company data in the world. I can see us being a real player in big data analytics and machine learning. We’re expecting to reach £1m turnover by the close of this financial year in May, it’s a really exciting time for us.”