In March 2016 I called my boss: “I’m resigning and setting up my own company”. That phone call was the defining moment to become an entrepreneur and establish Top Data Science. This April it’s been 5 years since the company was founded, so it’s nice to look back and write about some personal reflections.
No matter how much you do business planning and envisioning, after the company is set up, execution and adapting the plan with the founding team is what counts. I have been very lucky to have such great co-founders, Hung Ta and Oguzhan Gencoglu, with World class AI and Computer Science expertise, uncompromising attitudes and complementary set of skills. Our 3 different nationalities, Finnish, Vietnamese and Turkish, made us a diverse and inclusive company from the day one. That has become one of our greatest assets and an essential part of our company culture.
Before the company was founded, we developed some machine learning product protos, and did a mixture of AI and software engineering projects. But the main idea was to create “a top data science company”, a team that solves the most challenging AI and data problems for industrial and healthcare customers. As topdatascience.com was available, that became the name of the company.
Although we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do and how, with enthusiastic sales work we were able to get our first customers and the feedback for our early projects was very positive. Without business angels or seed investors, cash-flow was the only option and that taught us about the reality in business.
Now after 5 years, we have been profitable and growing all the time. That’s something I’m proud of and I believe this makes us well prepared for accelerated growth that we are seeing at the moment.
We hired our first employee in the summer of 2017. That was a big moment and after that the recruitment of new team members was much easier. Today we have 20+ employees divided in data science, software engineering and business development teams. The biggest learning for me has been leading the team and learning about different people. One of the biggest challenges has been employee retention since the AI market has been hot and data scientists are sought after in many organizations. Growing the company with cash-flow and trying to attract, keep and care for the top talent, has not been an easy combination.
I’m grateful for all who have been part of this journey so far. Our team is now better than ever and according to our latest team survey, a happier team than ever before.
When we started, the AI market was in quite an early stage and most companies were in the Proof-of-Concept phase. Between 2016 and 2018 there were many public sector and private company hackathons, local and global open innovation initiatives and other great opportunities for startups like us. We even set-up our first office in ‘Health Innovation Village’, an innovation ecosystem and co-working space established by GE Healthcare in their Helsinki campus. Other highlights from those years included Stora Enso ‘Digital Accelerator’, and our first international customers in Denmark, Sweden and Germany.
Now the market is more mature and the best companies are focusing on systematically scaling AI to their core processes and part of their products and services. With over 70 AI projects in many countries and industries for several global companies, we are thankful for all the customers who have and are trusting us!
A major milestone during these 5 years took place in October 2018, when Top Data Science became a subsidiary of Japanese Morpho Inc. Morpho is one of the leading technology companies for smart device imaging and fast edge computing, with over 3,5 billion licenses sold and +150 patents granted since 2004. I never had a thought about selling the company when founding it. I had a passion to create our own company and joy of work for the team. But from my earlier experiences, I knew that having an investor onboard, typically means 7 to 10 years of strenuous work with less freedom for innovation and decision power. So, as we started to work with Morpho in computer vision AI projects, and as the partnership evolved and created many synergies without micromanagement, it was an easy and good decision to join forces.
Finally, despite the challenging corona times we have been living since March 2020, the AI market has continued to grow rapidly and investments in data, data engineering and AI will continue at high speed. No one knows what the future of AI will look like, but one thing is sure, the future of industries and our lives will be more autonomous with the help of AI.