DataCrunch Lab was founded by Dr. Zeydy Ortiz and Rob Montalvo in 2016. Zeydy holds a PhD in computer science from NC State and worked for more than 16 years as a performance engineer, mostly doing predictive modeling and simulations for IBM. Zeydy enjoys walks and spending time with her husband, two kids and large extended family. Zeydy is clearly sharp as a whip and one of the kindest people you’ll speak with. We shared a conversation about what it’s like to build a company that is accelerating the adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Q: What does DataCrunch Lab do in a nutshell?
A: We provide artificial intelligence solutions to businesses in the area of predictive analytics to help augment the capabilities of staff and help them do their jobs more effectively. Our goal is to transform data to provide insights that make work easier and more efficient for people of all job titles.
For example, we did a project a few years ago for a plant manager in a manufacturing setting. We created a system that allowed the plant manager to extract data without having to know computer language. Instead of building SQL queries or even reading a dashboard, the manager could ask questions in plain english like, “how many defects do we have?” or “how far along are we on the project?” using their mobile device. We did this by integrating our technology into the Slack platform.
Here’s another example of what we can do. We recently won a SBIR contract with the Navy to build an integrated data platform for digital logistics supporting remote systems. There are many use cases for this, as you can imagine, particularly today dealing with COVID-19. But one example use case is wind turbines in a remote location. We will be able to provide data as to what’s happening, what kind of maintenance is needed to maintain the system, etc. without having to physically be there. (Head to the DataCrunch Lab blog to learn more about this project!)
Q: What inspired you to start this company?
A: I started getting involved in the tech and open data community in the Triangle and began seeing ways we can use the power of data to help communities, governments and businesses. I started to realize that the work I was doing at IBM had much broader applications.
I had the opportunity to be a community organizer for Data for Good projects in the area, which was a great way to get to know other people who had passion for using their talents to help others be more efficient. We did a couple awesome projects together.
One was with United Way of the Greater Triangle. They had a challenge to put together solutions for hunger. So we organized a hackathon and created a solution that explored data around where food resources are located and where they are needed. From the insights we learned that most Durham food sources are within a mile of a bus stop, but that is not the case in Wake County or Johnston County. These are the kinds of insights we brought in.
I also worked as a data ambassador with DataKind. They connected me with Step Up Durham. We spent a weekend organizing their data in order to help them better understand the impact they’ve made and how to be more effective in the future. Just by helping them organize and understand data, enabled them to find insights that were relevant and important to them. For instance, they found out that the clients that benefited most from their program were coming from a particular referral source.
Q: What’s your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: My favorite part is seeing the impact of the work that we do. Even on the commercial side, talking to the end customer directly and hearing how relevant and useful insights are is motivating for me.
Q: Do you have any mentors or role models who have inspired you while you have been building your business?
A: In 2015, we participated in the HOTTovation program where we met mentors who helped us along the way to think about what we were doing. We also participated in the NC IDEA LABS After Hours program where we learned about lean canvas and business model methodologies.
Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs?
A: Matching what people need and what you can offer is hard but crucial. As technologists, we tend to focus too much on technology. But it’s not about the tech at all. It’s about what people need. Sometimes what’s a simple solution from my point of view is a lifesaver for the client. We need to rewire our brains to respond to the people that have the need and understand how to help them solve their problems.