Two Adelaide-based tech entrepreneurs who developed big data visualisation software for Oxford University are looking to raise up to $10 million to accelerate sales of the technology.
Zegami, headed by Samuel Conway and Roger Nobel, has already attracted $1 million in funding from Oxford University and well-regarded British entrepreneurs.
The company is aiming to change the way businesses and individuals search their documents. Its software allows up to 60,000 documents to be displayed in a single view, which users can apply advanced search tools to, including searching for particular images or 3D objects.
Mr Conway said that if an HR manager of a 60,000 person company wanted to see all the people who worked in New South Wales, had been there for five years and had no children, Zegami would let the manager find that information for themselves.
“Or in medicine, imagine you took a picture of a lesion on your back, you could feed it into Zegami and it will run an image search algorithm with machine learning over the top, to bring up the top 10 similar lesions with diagnoses and treatment options,” Mr Conway said.
In 2011 Mr Conway was running consulting company Coritsu Group out of Adelaide, and Mr Nobel was brought on as the chief technology officer. Mr Nobel had been doing some free work for Oxford and when Mr Conway saw the technology his colleague was developing, the pair decided to turn it into a product businesses would pay for, and pitched it to the university.
“Oxford wanted a set of tools they could do better research with,” Mr Conway said.
“We did eight months consulting with them … when we finished the project, we flew to the UK and they were so impressed they suggested we form a spin-out company with them.”
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The university and the team fought over the next 14 months about who owned the intellectual property.
Eventually they settled on an ownership structure giving the founders 25 per cent each and Oxford University’s head of computational biology, Steve Taylor, and the university itself 25 per cent stakes.
In those 14 months, Mr Conway and his team finished building the product and launched the business in February, having won £250,000 ($500,000) from Oxford University’s technology investment fund and an additional £250,000 from British investors, including tech entrepreneur Charles Pope, chairman of Retain International.
“The money that’s been invested at the moment could be considered speculative investment … we have to prove we have a product, market, product verticals and that we can commercialise the software,” Mr Conway said.
“The challenge is to get the technology out there and show to people that it changes the way you think about search. We’re talking to the Natural History Museum and the Kew Gardens in London, and many other organisations.”
The company will continue to operate in Australia and Britain and is looking to expand to the US and Singapore.
Mr Conway says the team are open to investment from Australian venture capitalists, as well as those in Britain, but has found it challenging to raise money locally.
“Some of the investors I’ve spoken to here seem, not necessarily naive, but the appetite for risk is a lot less,” he said.
“Some also haven’t been able to understand why it’s important to be able to search in a new way.”