Business

He left his Durham startup for a Ph.D. Now he’s going back to work – for a new company.

Robbie Allen, the founder of Durham-based Automated Insights, is returning to the tech startup scene, after leaving earlier this year to enroll into a Ph.D. program at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Robbie Allen, the founder of Durham-based Automated Insights, is returning to the tech startup scene, after leaving earlier this year to enroll into a Ph.D. program at UNC-Chapel Hill. File photo

The last time we heard from Robbie Allen – the founder of Durham-based artificial intelligence company Automated Insights – he was trading the CEO’s office for the hallways of Sitterson Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Allen resigned around eight months ago from his role as CEO of Automated Insights (Ai), which he sold in 2015 to a private equity firm, to enroll in a Ph.D. computer science program at UNC.

His former company had gained notoriety for its product, Wordsmith, which can automate 2,000 stories per second and has been used by outlets such as the Associated Press and Yahoo Inc. to create sports game recaps and financial stories.

When he left, Allen said he was looking forward to a break from running a company and researching new artificial intelligence trends.

But, now, he has decided to leave his full-time role as a student to return to the startup world.

Allen has been named the new CEO of Infinia ML, an artificial intelligence company that was founded earlier this year in Durham by Lawrence Carin, Duke University’s vice provost for research and a computer engineering professor. The company also boasts $10 million in financing from Carrick Capital Partners.

“I have really enjoyed (the Ph.D. program), which is why I am surprised I am doing this,” Allen said. “I said it would have to be about perfect opportunity to stop what I am doing with my Ph.D.”

Allen was attracted to the company because it operates in the area of computer science that he was researching at UNC: machine learning. It’s a subset of computer science that focuses on creating algorithms that learn to make predictions from studying old data and the input of new data.

Infinia ML will use machine learning techniques to create its own prediction-making algorithms that could sift through huge amounts of data for companies. The algorithms would then predict future results based off the data, allowing companies to streamline their present business operations.

Infinia has already used its software to help medical companies, government organizations and Fortune 500 companies to streamline their businesses, Allen said.

Allen says his first charge at the company will be to build a talented staff. The company has 10 employees right now and Allen says that could “triple” within a year.

The company is currently based in an office in downtown Durham near the restaurant Rue Cler, but the office isn’t large enough to withstand that sort of growth. Allen says the company will soon begin looking for new office space.

“With some of the new buildings opening up (downtown) hopefully that will present some options” for office space, he said. “We will definitely need that to stay in downtown, otherwise we will have to look somewhere in RTP.”

The jobs that Allen plans to fill will be high-paying positions, as the company will have to compete with companies on the West Coast for talent, he said.

“Google, Facebook and Amazon are hiring all the (machine learning) Ph.Ds right now,” he said. “There are not very many good options for machine-learning jobs on the East Coast; they are more are on the West Coast. Now there is going to be an option.”

He added that the company will be looking to recruit from local universities for computer engineering and data scientists talent.

Allen shouldn’t have to go far to find that talent at universities – he plans to continue his Ph.D. studies at UNC while running Infinia.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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