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 sector.
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.
Our conversation continues here.
This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping