Sramana Mitra: What year did you start Linguamatics?
Roger Hale: In 2001, right after the dot-com bubble. I had always been interested in starting a company. I don’t really like working for other people. The key moment in starting Linguamatics was SRI deciding to wind down and shut down its Cambridge lab. We felt that there was a potential for a novel approach which could make text mining and natural language processing technology more readily applicable to commercial problems.
The novelty was to make very precise natural language processing-based text mining results available interactively to non-expert users in a search engine-like style, which is the origin of our product now. Our product is called I2E. That stands for Interactive Information Extraction. The interactive part was, and still is, pretty novel. It democratized text mining in a sense, which had previously only been accessible to NLP experts.
Sramana Mitra: Go back to 2001 when you were starting this company. What was the first thing you did? The fact that the Cambridge of SRI was shutting down, were there customers around that you could take with you to launch this company?
Roger Hale: There was one company that we took with us. They gave us a very small contract that didn’t end up being the core of our business. That was in a legal application. It was something that SRI had developed for this company. The lab was shutting down and had no means of supporting it. That was helpful because it gave us some revenue. It wasn’t ultimately the core of the business that we developed.
Sramana Mitra: But it was something that you got cash out of?
Roger Hale: Oh yes, absolutely. SRI is involved in a lot of grant-funded research. We were able to take some grant funding with us into Linguamatics. That was enormously helpful in providing support without diluting the capital of the company.
Sramana Mitra: Your early start capital was both contract from a customer as well as these grants that you were able to get to get the company off the ground?
Roger Hale: Exactly so.
Sramana Mitra: Did you know when you started the company that you were going to go after the pharmaceutical sector?
Roger Hale: We actually had branches of technology when we started the company. Information extraction was one and that was the one that eventually gained traction the fastest. We were going to go after the pharmaceutical sector because from our experience at SRI, we knew that the pharmaceutical sector were interested in this technology. They had a pain point in managing the information.
The pharmaceutical sector was actually good for our kind of technology because they had already spent some time organizing their information. There were ready-made public ontologies that could be used with our software. We knew there was a pain point in pharmaceutical. That was one of our initial targets.