February 13, 2018

SigOpt Within In-Q-Tel’s Parameters

Alex Woodie

It’s no secret that America’s spies are collecting massive amounts of data. And now that In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the nation’s intelligence agencies, has taken a stake in hyperparameter optimization startup SigOpt, they’ll have one more tool for building accurate machine learning models based on that data.

Scott Clark, the Ph.D. co-founder and CEO of SigOpt, is looking forward to assisting In-Q-Tel’s clients to make the most of their data. “Obviously there’s a high level of sophistication within these agencies and a lot of extreme experts,” Clark says. “So that’s our favorite type of customer.”

SigOpt was founded in 2014 with one simple goal: to create a commercially viable product out of the academic research on Bayesian optimization techniques that Clark conducted at Cornell University. The company, which took third place in the March 2016 Strata Startup Showcase, created an API-based service that automatically tunes the hyperparameters of their deep learning and machine learning models.

According to SigOpt, companies in financial services, retail, and other industries have experienced orders of magnitude better performance after running their models through SigOpt’s “black box” optimizer. In some cases, the performance is goosed by 100x.

While neural networks are quickly gaining popularity, the number of data scientists with the skills to optimize the models is still relatively small, a gap that SigOpt hopes to exploit with its automated optimization system. SigOpt, which had raised $8.7 million through seed and Series A rounds before the In-Q-Tel investment, now has more ammo to build its business.

Mike Ferrari, the principal for investments at In-Q-Tel, says the outfit is “thrilled” to be working with SigOpt. “SigOpt’s hyperparameter tuning capabilities will not only provide agencies within the U.S. Intelligence Community with the necessary optimization methods to vastly improve their machine learning models, but also allow them to free up time and resources for other important national security projects,” he stated in a SigOpt blog post yesterday.

As part of the development agreement between SigOpt and In-Q-Tel, the San Francisco software firm will get a chance to work with spy agencies. Clark has already started the engagement. “They’re using it for a variety of different techniques, fine-tuning machine learning models basically to arrive at the best possible outcomes,” he tells Datanami. “We’re really excited to help work with them to optimize and reach the full potential of this research and the models that they’re doing.”

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