(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a series profiling the start-ups that are participating in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s inaugural “CodeWorks” accelerator. “Demo Day” for the six teams in the program is tonight, December 17.)
Sigmatec Analytics is a start-up founded by Michael Bertolli, a consultant for universities and national laboratories in data science and astrophysics.
How did you come-up with the name? I grew-up on stories from Greek mythology and the famous Greek thinkers, where culture and scientific methods were intertwined so naturally. That sort of congruency between data science and the real-world that uses it is exactly what I hope to capture. So the name came out of that.
What is the problem you are trying to solve or opportunity on which you are trying to capitalize? We keep hearing how data is changing the way the world works, and it definitely is! But at the moment, real, in-depth, predictive analysis of data remains beyond the resources of most companies. Even worse, the current solutions for analytics neglect the experience and intelligence of the users within their own business domain. Merging advanced analytics with the domain experts, who actually need it, rather than the data scientists, is what my product is attempting to do.
When did you first start thinking that your idea might warrant starting a company? I developed the base technology while working in nuclear astrophysics. While the usual data science techniques were useful, there was just no real way to automate the domain expertise necessary to generate really meaningful solutions to the problems at hand. But it wasn’t until a few years after that it hit me, as I worked as a data scientist with dismal performance attempting to model systems I’d never heard of, just from the raw data. Each complex problem requires experience and insight to solve that isn’t available in generic approaches. Businesses certainly deal with complex problems, so maybe this technology was something they could benefit from as well.
What motivated you to apply for “CodeWorks”? I got to know Jim Biggs at KEC over the summer, and he has been hugely supportive ever since. He first approached me about applying to “CodeWorks” as a great way to learn the business side of running a start-up. I’m glad I took his advice; it’s been the most productive time investment I could have made.
At this stage, what has been your biggest aha event where your eyes were opened to something that you had not considered? As a technical person, it’s easy to assume everyone actively collects and uses data in their professional activities. The biggest “aha” moment I’ve had has been discussing with potential customers and realizing the subtlety in which experience and daily interactions are transformed into actionable data by business owners. It really makes you appreciate the human brain and how our current science and technology must have developed. But it also influenced my product development massively – it forced me to go back and consider the workflow and interactions that lead to really meaningful analytics. How the user’s domain expertise is captured totally changed after just that one discussion and really drove home for me how important those customer interactions are!
What do you hope to achieve/where do you hope your company is when the 12-week accelerator ends? In terms of milestones, by the end of “CodeWorks,” I’m shooting to have an MVP (minimally viable product) and a handful of beta tests underway. But everyone at “CodeWorks” has been so supportive and taught all of us so much, I’m sure I can’t do justice to just how much we’ll all have grown by the end of the 12 weeks – both as companies and as entrepreneurs.