Bright Idea: Data Processing

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We give people an unfair advantage,” reads a T-shirt worn by Stephen Purpura. That’s the marketing mantra of Context Relevant, the Seattle startup Purpura launched last year. The company says it offers that edge by using machine-learning technology to quickly uncover critical relationships from among massive amounts of client data.

“Our product allows companies to explore a world of ‘what if’ scenarios that a team of statisticians would have taken months to do in the past,” Purpura explains.

A pharmaceutical company on the East Coast that was trying to decide how to price its drugs could have hired a team of data scientists to make the decision in several months. With Context Relevant, the firm’s market analysts could use an iPad, slide a few variables around and come up with an optimal price within a matter of minutes.

While Microsoft and Google can afford to hire data scientists, a lot of other companies have a tougher time, says Purpura. “We level the playing field.”

The company, which has 30 employees, expects to double its head count in 2014 and again in 2015. “After that, there could be exponential growth if we are not first acquired,” notes Purpura. He says the market potential for selling to Wall Street firms alone is $1 billion. Purpura left a career at Microsoft to pursue a doctorate in computer science so he could have a bigger impact on the world. He says in a few years, every app in the Apple store will contain some variation of Context Relevant’s technology.

Today, Context Relevant is applying its technology in industry sectors involving rapid change. For example, a sharp increase in same-day bookings has led online travel companies to use Context Relevant technology to help them quickly determine where they should book blocks of hotel rooms. Similarly, the technology can zip through default rates, housing prices and interest rates to calculate risk and help determine the value of mortgage-backed securities. Purpura even uses the technology to help him decide what wines to buy and whom to hire.

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