For the past two years, Sean O’Leary has quietly worked on a new venture using big data to solve problems across various industries.
O’Leary’s name is familiar in local entrepreneurial circles: He co-founded Genscape Inc., an energy market data and intelligence provider that retains its North American headquarters in Louisville. He was CEO for 11 years.
Now O’Leary is back in the startup world. He is the CEO of EdjAnalytics LLC, an early-stage company that has developed a methodology to break down problems and help companies make better decisions.
The solution is applicable in multiple arenas, such as health care, education, athletics and commodities markets.
Beyond helping companies obtain better outcomes, O’Leary, 46, also is focused on broader implications such as tackling recidivism or college attrition rates.
“At this stage of my life, and I know with my partners as well, we don’t look at purely the commercial upside in everything we do,” he said.
He not only wants to grow his business but also wants to spend time focused “on applications that continue to make the community stronger and better.”
Using what he calls a “game-based approach,” O’Leary said EdjAnalytics breaks problems into three parts: the information available, the rules of the game and the outcome desired.
Take the game of chess, for example. It’s understood that there’s an opponent (information), that pieces can move in certain directions (rules) and that the goal is checkmate (outcome desired).
Breaking a problem into three components allows Edj to simplify it. The company uses analytical tools around neural networks (programs that allow for continuous learning), regression and genetic algorithms to further break down a problem. From there, Edj takes this data and employs predictive modeling techniques to help organizations make more informed decisions.
“One of our mantras in the office is that we let the data speak,” O’Leary said. An important part of that, he added, is that humans bring biases to problems that ultimately affect decision-making.
Edj Analytics isn’t limited to one industry, he said, because the methodology can be applied to various arenas. That’s why the company doesn’t need experts — for example, in health care -— on its team.
“It looks and feels like a consultant business,” O’Leary said, “but we have a development partner to solve internal problems with applications throughout the industry.”
From there, EdjAnalytics owns all or a portion of the intellectual property, which it sells across the industry.
How it’s applied
The idea for the company originated with co-founders Frank Frigo, chief product officer, and Chuck Bower, chief scientist. Years ago, they created a computer program called ZEUS that assesses the play-calling decisions of NFL coaches.
Frigo and O’Leary met about 15 years ago when both were in the energy trading business. But it wasn’t until O’Leary left Genscape that Bower and Frigo approached him about forming a new company to expand the technology outside of sports. EdjAnalytics is not based on the same model as ZEUS but uses the same process. Edj currently is in the athletics space, helping NFL teams make decisions that increase their chances of winning.
O’Leary declined to name specific teams that are clients but said he sees the potential to develop tools that evaluate the contributions individual players make to team success.
That would be accomplished by looking outside of traditional decision-making, he said, noting that in football particularly he has observed that other goals beyond winning often take precedence — such as saving face or avoiding risk.
“It’s really interesting how often people have a hard time understanding or defining what the goal might be,” he said.
In the health care arena, EdjAnalytics is working to identify factors that put patients at risk for hospital readmission during a set period of time. O’Leary declined to name his client but said it’s a large Northeastern hospital system.
Because the Affordable Care Act ties readmission rates to reimbursements, he said, it has amplified the financial incentive of using data to identify at-risk patients before they are discharged.
Outside of current projects, O’Leary also sees applications in education. For example, data can identify students who are most likely to drop out of college. While EdjAnalytics has no current partnerships with school systems, it’s a segment O’Leary wants to enter.
He also sees potential to help with retention in industries with high turnover.
He estimates his team is working on three or four projects at any given time.
“We’ve got so much data that we’re compiling — across the world, really — that people really don’t know what to do with all of it,” O’Leary said.
“The fact is, there’s enough out there to solve a lot of problems. It’s just understanding how to do that. So, big opportunity.”
The next Genscape?
Reflecting on his time starting and running Genscape, O’Leary said he was at a different stage of his life. As a 30-something, he was raising his three children. Now they’re in college or on their way out of the nest.
Professionally, he’s also gained a decade of experience as a CEO.
One of his biggest changes: “I don’t get blown away by the ebbs and flows of an early-stage business. You have good days and you have bad days in any company. Early stage, when the risk factor is much higher, it can wear you out.”
Now he knows “it’s just part of the game.” He understands which factors are important, he said, more so than before.
“And I know that if we continue to get really good people in this company, the opportunities are there. We’re going to be fine.”
Asked whether Edj might become the next Genscape, he said the two are completely different businesses. With more experience, he said, he will do things differently this time.
But he wants to retain the core elements that made Genscape a great company, he said, such as its culture and “Why not?” attitude.
He takes pride in building a great place to work.
“That’s what we’re doing with this company,” he said. “We’re solving interesting problems. We’re, hopefully, making the world a better place with the work we do and providing a neat environment for smart people to push themselves a little bit.”
O’Leary sees staff doubling within a few years
EdjAnalytics CEO Sean O’Leary is focused on growing the early-stage company. It currently employs fewer than 15 people, five of whom are full time. He expects to double and perhaps triple the staff in the next few years as the company grows in the expected range of 200 percent this year.
He declined to disclose revenue but said the company has turned a profit.
Its co-founders funded the company to get it started, O’Leary said, and they’re currently evaluating whether to manage growth through outside investors or personal funds.
Business: Uses data sets to support business applications
CEO: Sean O’Leary
Founded: August 2013
Employees: Fewer than 15
Revenue: Declined to disclose
Growth: Expects to grow in 200 percent range this year
Address: 732 E. Market St., Suite 203