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Spotlight shines on big ideas at AlphaLab's Demo Day

| Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, 2:30 p.m.
Luke Schenker, right, gives the thumbs up following a presentation from Nebulus, one of the five companies to participate in the AlphaLab Demo Day at the New Hazlett Theater, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. Nebulus enables musicians to collaborate on songs together through interactive tools online.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Luke Schenker, right, gives the thumbs up following a presentation from Nebulus, one of the five companies to participate in the AlphaLab Demo Day at the New Hazlett Theater, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. Nebulus enables musicians to collaborate on songs together through interactive tools online.
Nick Coronado, left, demonstrates as Kyle Henson presents Nebulus, one of the five companies to participate in the AlphaLab Demo Day at the New Hazlett Theater. Nebulus enables musicians to collaborate on songs together through interactive tools online.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Nick Coronado, left, demonstrates as Kyle Henson presents Nebulus, one of the five companies to participate in the AlphaLab Demo Day at the New Hazlett Theater. Nebulus enables musicians to collaborate on songs together through interactive tools online.
Niki Kittur presents DataSquid one of the five companies to participate in the AlphaLab Demo Day at the New Hazlett Theater.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Niki Kittur presents DataSquid one of the five companies to participate in the AlphaLab Demo Day at the New Hazlett Theater.
Niki Kittur presents DataSquid one of the five companies to participate in the AlphaLab Demo Day at the New Hazlett Theater.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Niki Kittur presents DataSquid one of the five companies to participate in the AlphaLab Demo Day at the New Hazlett Theater.

Niki Kittur, co-founder of Data­Squid LLC, uses his company's tool that digs deep into big sets of data on a personal mission — finding a vacation rental.

Using data from a popular website that has rentals offered by owners, Kittur said he's found top vacation homes in minutes instead of spending hours searching through long lists. “We've done it three or four times, and I wouldn't do it any other way.”

But DataSquid is targeting a bigger market, said Kittur — the 25,000 financial analysts, 17 million online investors, along with health care, insurance and banking companies, that need a more intuitive way to interpret huge amounts of data they use or collect on a daily basis.

Kittur, co-founder Jeff Rzeszotarski and the founders of four other early-stage companies received $25,000 and space to work from AlphaLab, an “accelerator” that helps startups, and spent the past four months trying to establish themselves as some of the region's newest tech companies.

Each spoke on Wednesday at Alpha­Lab's Demo Day event at the Hazlett Theater in the North Side, pitching their accomplishments to about 500 fans from Pittsburgh's entrepreneurial community and to venture capitalists who might be interested in providing more backing. The companies typically are at the earliest stages of growth.

“They represent the next group of companies that will do great things,” said Jim Jen, manager of AlphaLab, which was started in 2008 by Innovation Works, a government-funded nonprofit that invests in startups.

An example of success was Powered Analytics Inc. of Pittsburgh. Drawing the biggest applause from the Demo Day audience, CEO and founder Collin Otis announced that his company, which started at AlphaLab two years ago, was purchased by retailer Target Corp.

“We're incredibly excited to be part of this,” Otis said. It has developed an in-store personalization platform called Fabric to increase in-store contact and customer loyalty for retailers. In 2013, it won the Randall Family Big Idea Competition at the University of Pittsburgh.

The company will remain here and continue hiring, Otis said. He declined to comment further. Terms of the transaction were not announced.

“We're excited about the talent that will be joining the Target team as we seek to become a leading omni-channel retailer,” said Target spokesman Eric Hausman in confirming the purchase.

Kittur said DataSquid's tool more intuitively interprets data from spreadsheets and database files so users can slice, sift, stack and pivot data naturally using their fingers on tablets.

“It's a new way to visualize big data. It's also easier to use than anything that's out there,” he said.

Big data has become a buzz word referring to sets of digital information that are too voluminous for typical database software tools to capture and manage. Businesses are looking for ways to analyze data more efficiently, drive sales and lower costs.

With finger-pinching movements DataSquid users can select data, draw circles that separate unneeded pieces of information, or set up walls that push unneeded data out of view, among a host of actions.

“Analysts we showed this to told us a deep dive like this takes days to do. We can do it in a minute,” Kittur said. “We have interested several large companies, who say we need to scale up to support them.”

DataSquid plans to release a free version on Apple's app store in coming weeks.

“What they showed was really impressive. A visual view of data like they showed takes lots of hours, and their solution cuts through all of that,” said Keith Giulani, CEO of Savvior Technology Solutions Inc., a North Side data products company. “They will not have trouble attracting an investor.”

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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