Cambridge, England is a great place for high-end technical talent. This story traces the journey of a group of such talented people with core expertise in Natural Language Processing, including Co-founder Roger Hale, and how they turned their expertise into a robust, profitable business.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Roger Hale: I think I had
quite a normal upbringing. I grew up in Yorkshire in the northeast of England.
My mother came from a family with a local manufacturing business. She also
ran a restaurant for a while. My father was an academic. He was a
mathematician. He had actually been a code breaker and worked with some of the
very first computers as part of that. I didn’t obviously know that until later.
I started programming while I was at
school. This was back in the days when mainframes had less computing power than
a mobile phone today. After school, I went on to do a Bachelor’s in Mathematics
at Trinity College in Cambridge. That’s where I discovered my limits in
mathematics. That’s quite common I think.
I took a graduate course in computer
science and that suited me well. I went on to do a Ph.D. in Cambridge after a
short spell working on computer networking at the National Physical Laboratory
in London where a lot of the early work on packet switch networking was done.
The computer lab was a great place to be at that time.
It was a time when the Internet was
just taking off and mobile technology was in development. The lab was a very
entrepreneurial place to be in. There were lots of alumni forming companies.
Cambridge itself was a very entrepreneurial place at that time not just in
computing but also in biotech and engineering.
Sramana Mitra: What
years are we talking?
Roger Hale: We’re talking
about the 80’s when I was doing my Ph.D. I went to SRI to continue my Ph.D.
work. The SRI Cambridge lab specialized in natural language processing and
formal methods. It was a research lab but it was, in a way, quite
entrepreneurial as well. The research was to be partly paid by the private
We spent some time persuading big
corporates to fund the research we did. That was often quite a tough sell. It
did open our eyes to what the corporate needs were as well. As you probably
know, SRI was a world leader in natural language processing. The Cambridge lab
did some of the early work in text mining.
Specifically, there were some original
works by my co-founders at Linguamatics in extracting biological information
from scientific articles. That generated some interest in the pharmaceutical
sector. That was a bit of a stimulus when we started Linguamatics because we
were aware of the problem that the pharmaceutical sector had with managing the
information they had. In research form, we had the beginnings of a solution.