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MSU Cadence Bank Building in downtown Starkville. (photo by Logan Kirkland / © Mississippi State University)

Babel Street doubles size as it tags Starkville its ‘ideas’

By TED CARTER

Nearly 50 years after Coca-Cola sought to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, Starkville data tech company Babel Street Inc. is out to fulfill an equally ambitious goal.

Babel Street wants to help the world make sense of the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data it produces each day and will employ all of the world’s major languages to do it.

Chief Technology Officer Shon Myatt said no one else can do that, at least in employing the dozens of major languages to analyze data mined from more than 20 of the major world languages.

Babel Street, not to be confused with the unrelated language software company Babbel, has been a Starkville fixture the past few years, but this is its first time as a downtown resident, the company having cut the ribbon on 8,750 square feet space of space on the third floor of the Cadence Bank building at 301 W. Main St.

A doubling of workers to 35 people comes with the move, Babel Street said. They will handle technical development, it said.

Mississippi State University Interim Vice President for Research and Economic Development Julie Jordan visits with Babel Street CEO Jeffrey Chapman during the grand opening of the company’s new innovation center in downtown Starkville. (photo by Logan Kirkland / © Mississippi State University)

Myatt said Babel Street has some competitors “at the feature level with software.”

But, he insisted, “No one has been able to catch us in searching for data and turning it into actionable knowledge.”

The search capabilities of the nearly decade-old Babel Street can analyze search results for “sentiment” in 33 languages. That number is expected to grow to 55 by year end.

“A number of markets need that,” Myatt said of the massive searches and the analysis that follows.

Businesses with an international focus use the data accessed in the multiple languages to protect their brands around the world. With the analytics from Babel Street, businesses can get a fix on what people in each country are writing and saying about them.

Attitudes, emotions and intentions of the people in each selected country are crucial to the analysis, Babel Street says.

“We sort it out,” Myatt said. “It really boils down to brand management.”

For instance, the National Football League can find how attitudes toward and perceptions of American professional football are developing in countries such as the United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan, all of which are marketing targets for the league and its games.

The NFL monitors its brand through Babel, Myatt added.

Governments are also clients, the company says, and hire Babel for security-related data analysis.

But why Starkville as its center for innovation, the place where the new ideas are expected to come from?

One reason is the Mississippi roots of Myatt, an Amory native, and founder Jeffrey Chapman, a Starkville native. “He wanted to give to his hometown,” Myatt said of Chapman, a U.S. Naval Academy alum with a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard and an MBA in finance from the University of Virginia.

SHON MYATT

Access to Mississippi State University’s Research Technology Center and its pool of technology savvy students, grads and faculty influenced Chapman’s decision as well.

“We greatly value our roots here in Starkville, Mississippi, both home and heritage to many on our team,” Chapman said in a press release last week announcing Babel Street’s move out of MSU’s Thad Cochran Research, Technology & Economic Development Park.

Babel Street is headquartered in metro Washington, D.C. In addition to Starkville, it has offices in London and Canberra, Australia. It employs 120 people.

“When choosing a new space to make room for the significant growth we’ve experienced, it was incredibly important for us to remain in Starkville and as an integral part of the local tech economy,” Chapman said.

“Given our close partnership with MSU across departments, their latest downtown facility was the perfect fit for us. The move represents an exciting new wave of innovation and our continued commitment to providing organizations across the globe with knowledge unbound by location or language.”

Mississippi State University landed a major tenant for its downtown location and Starkville gained a company with a worldwide reach.

“The Babel Street innovation center is an ideal tenant for our new building,” said David R. Shaw, provost and executive vice president at MSU, in a press statement.

Shaw said Babel is at the forefront of cross-lingual search and text analytics technology and data analysis. It’s “literally leveraging that technology to make the world a better place,” he said.

Privately held, Babel Street declined to reveal its capitalization level or revenues. However, Myatt noted, its expansions and doubling of its workforce reflect its fiscal strength. “In terms of headcount, we’ve grown about 100 percent year over year for the last four years,” he said.

One of its launches, Babel for Business, uses analytical software tailored to each commercial client, according to Myatt. With Babel Street for Business, clients can view and pull data that fits their own proprietary data set, he said.

For instance, take a company that wants to monitor its brand. “They’ll spend most of their time trying to find the right data,” Myatt said, estimating this consumes about 80 percent of time spent on the entire effort.

Babel gets hired because it mines the data for the client. “Finding the right data is hard,” Myatt said. “That is really what we do.”

Now, the client can spend 80 percent of its time analyzing the data instead of searching for it, the chief technology officer said.

Myatt said Babel spent about three years developing the platform and software that are the backbone of its enterprise. It’s been on the market for about seven years, he said.

“The first problem? How do we break the language barrier to do search and discovery?”

Then came the job of figuring out how to apply the data set, Myatt said. “The third thing was to get into one streamlined user interface.”

From there, came the addition of “dark Web” data and a mobile app.

Much of Babel’s current focus is on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning “to continue to enhance our existing products,” Myatt said.

“Machine Learning” is a term the digital world applies to the process of developing ways to access data and apply algorithms to the data. Done correctly, actionable knowledge is gained.

Babel Street is getting really good at doing this, Myatt said.

Myatt expects that in five years, Babel Street should be a single platform to monitor and analyze a brand. That would include alerts to clients indications of tainting of the brand are found worldwide.

“You can look for us to keep going and running this train,” he said.

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About Ted Carter