Cambridge UK startup techspert.io, a new expert network which uses artificial intelligence to source experts, secured £1 million ($1.3 million) in a second round of angel funding. The company has raised $1.6 million to date.
The financing was led by former UBS veteran Simon Thorpe, previously COO of UBS research before becoming a venture capitalist. Thorpe has built a successful track record, having invested in two Cambridge-founded businesses bought by Google and Apple for a combined $350 million.
The company was founded by two Cambridge biotech scholars frustrated with current techniques for sourcing experts. The initial proof-of-concept was focused on sourcing healthcare experts. Along with the financing, the company has changed its name from Biotechspert to techspert.io as it seeks to broaden its capabilities beyond the healthcare sector.
Techspert.io differentiates its service partly on the breadth of the sources it uses to locate experts. “Our platform scrapes the entirety of public information accessible via semantic web searching,” said co-founder Graham Mills in an interview with Integrity Research. “We systematically include academic journals, medical registries, and a wide spectrum of biographical data, even Google searches.” Graham says the company has indexed close to 200 million experts, arguing that the resulting network is 150 times larger than the pool of experts available through any single expert network.
Expert selection is mathematically modeled along four dimensions, including the individual’s experience, communication skills (including language), influence and commercial insight. Rankings on each attribute are provided to clients along with the biography of the expert.
Because the search process is automated, experts are generally sourced in twenty-four hours or less.
Although its technology seeks to differentiate, techspert.io has adopted the same business model as existing expert networks. Clients are supported by account managers who receive the client requests, submit the information about the experts sourced from the AI system, and schedule phone consultations (although the company is working to automate the scheduling and other manual tasks). Compliance is handled by ensuring experts understand insider trading restrictions.
Current clients include consulting firms PwC and ZS Associates and life sciences firm IQVIA.
Fees are charged based on the length of the phone consultations while subscriptions are available to cover heavy volumes of use. The firm advertises a lower price point because of the automated sourcing. Consultations generally range from ~$600 to $900 per hour, which is in the lower quartiles of industry pricing.
Techspert.io was founded in 2016 by Graham Mills and David Holden-White, who were frustrated in locating life sciences industry-specific expertise. The two had previous collaborated in founding a start-up biotech firm designed to reduce nicotine addiction.
The firm has fifteen employees and is currently recruiting for machine learning engineers, full stack developers, and account managers.
Although the expert industry is maturing, it is far from staid. AlphaSights, likely the second largest expert network, has been a disrupter itself and will not stand idle if a new technology takes hold. Industry leader Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) has been quick to respond to competitive threats, for example beefing up its Quantitative Insights Group in response to challenges from Third Bridge. GLG wishes to be viewed as a technology firm so it can hardly allow a fintech upstart to usurp its market.
Nevertheless, techspert.io cannot be easily dismissed. It is grounded in the healthcare sector, a cornerstone segment which was the one of the first sectors embraced by GLG and Guidepoint when they were early stage companies. It has successfully scaled while in stealth mode, is now obtaining funding and recruiting staff. At the same time barriers to entry are lower as compliance concerns have receded with the passage of time since the insider trading prosecutions, now nearly a decade distant. We suspect techspert.io will be closely monitored by the industry heavyweights.