Think of all the text we see on any given day in countless forms on our computers and phones—a virtual fire hose of words. It’s hard to recall what we saw a few hours ago, never mind a few days, weeks or months ago. And trying to go back to find something in particular? Good luck.
That’s where Chapel Hill-based Cymantix comes in. The startup was created to help make sense of unstructured text data in new ways. Cymantix participated in last fall’s cohort of the Launch Chapel Hill accelerator.
Cymantix’s CEO and Co-Founder Dr. English Grey Sall is a self-professed data nerd. She initially became interested in data systems upon earning a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology from NC State. She was focusing on how to build systems to meet people where they are with electronic health records and other data-collection mechanisms.
When Sall applied for a postdoctoral position at UNC Chapel Hill’s Carolina Health Informatics Program, she became part of Professor Javed Mostofa’s lab, where she met Cymantix’s current COO Michael Ortiz. Ortiz was working on developing a platform that would become the pillar of Cymantix as a company.
One day, Sall asked Ortiz what he wanted to do with the platform. It was such a great system with potential uses in several different contexts, she said.
“He said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. I think one day it would be great to start a company and really disrupt the space of information retrieval and management,’” Sall said. “And so right then and there I said, ‘Well, that’s a great idea. Let’s do that.’”
So Cymantix was formed with Sall, Ortiz and Mostofa as Co-Founders in 2021.
Since data is growing at an exponential rate and will likely never slow down, understanding it all can be difficult. Unstructured text data can be anything from peer-reviewed literature to WhatsApp messages to meeting transcripts, and there’s so much meaning that can be derived from it all for business growth, Sall said. But an overwhelming majority goes un-analyzed and un-searched.
Cymantix hopes to connect the dots and minimize the time and resources businesses require to collect and process their data. They can group information into clusters based on relativity via the startup’s machine-learning tool. And soon, users will be able to securely upload their own personal data, like Word and Excel documents and notes on your phone, to gain greater insights.
“It was always so intimidating to try and search and make meaning out of so much information that was constantly available,” Sall said. “On one hand, it’s such a privilege to live in this world where anything you might know is at your fingertips. But if we don’t create the tools to truly access and make meaning out of that knowledge, how much information is going unnoticed?”
The target user might be a company in cyber or defense intelligence, or healthcare, or anybody interested in aggregating unstructured text data quickly in real time to find relationships between units of data, Sall said.
“We want to make the complex simple,” Sall said. “We want to enable thoughtful engagement with the exponential growth of information. It’s about creating tools to really help people connect the dots and make meaning out of the constant influx of information that we all feel on a daily basis.”
The platform Cymantix created allows a certain level of customization for each industry, but at the moment, they’ve focused on development with one client. They also have various paid and unpaid beta projects in the intelligence space, health care, enterprise search and the energy sector
“It’s never the same one day to the next,” Sall said. “But I definitely think that the main thing that’s evolved is understanding how we are testing our hypotheses of how we are additive to our users’ workflow and trying to really hone in on the elements and the features that our users are really responding to.”
Running an all-virtual startup amid a pandemic has also brought along its fair share of challenges, according to Sall.
“I think some of the biggest lessons for me is how do you—in this phase of startup—how do you focus on building a culture that is virtual?” Sall said. “How do you focus on aligning goals and keeping people motivated?”
It requires thoughtfulness to create a virtual space where all employees feel motivated, creative and collaborative, she said.
Luckily, the startup also benefited from the energy of the tech ecosystem in the Triangle and Launch Chapel Hill.
“There’s just been a lot of openness for innovation and curiosity and creativity,” she said. “And I think that that’s a lot of why we have such a vibrant startup community here as well.”
Launch Chapel Hill created an opportunity to learn from amazing mentors and a safe space to get feedback and develop ideas, Sall said. The cohort model also helped Cymantix thrive by being next to other startups going through the same things.
To date, the 13-person Cymantix team (five are fulltime) is in its pilot research and development phase but intends to release its SaaS product over the next two years and raise a seed round.
“We really want to hone in and articulate our business model really clearly,” Sall said. “I think that we’re at such a great point with the iterations and the development of the technology that I’m so excited to see that really take off as the year goes on.”