The Israeli miner, who sifts through data

Israeli researcher Ronen Feldman has already sold one text mining company to Reuters for $47 million. Now he’s working on his next one. He built and sold his first company, the text analytics firm ClearForest, for a cool $25 million …

Israeli researcher Ronen Feldman has already sold one text mining company to Reuters for $47 million. Now he’s working on his next one.

He built and sold his first company, the text analytics firm ClearForest, for a cool $25 million to the news agency Reuters in April 2007, but Israel’s 47 year-old text mining researcher, Ronen Feldman certainly has no plans to retire any time soon from the life of digital mining.

Now working on his next company Digital Trowel, Feldman, who is famous in tech circles around the world, is creating even bigger and better tools that help researchers and readers gain a clearer understanding of what information Google and other search engines are indexing.

What keeps him mining? “It’s the excitement of creating a new company. It’s always inside of you. I could relax for a week and become bored. Then you have to do something,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Known for coining the term “text mining”, Feldman, an associate professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, started building ClearForest in 1998 with Dr. Yonatan Aumann, the son of Nobel Prize for Economics Laureate Prof. Israel Aumann. They sold it a decade later.

Like many young Israelis who find themselves in intelligence positions in the army, Feldman was in the prestigious Talpiot program in the Israeli Air Force when he starting thinking of creative ways to make sifting through reams of intelligence data easier.

It’s probably working in “intelligence” that motivates a great number of Israeli entrepreneurs to enter the field of data mining, he says. “Many Israelis come from intelligence units and this is what they do. It comes naturally to them to try and automate the process.”

Finding critical links in trillions of data

Feldman and Aumann founded ClearForest to provide business intelligence solutions to help researchers and analysts find critical links in trillions of bits of textual data.

The company, which is headquartered in Waltham, MA, with a technology center in Or-Yehuda, Israel, allows customers such as The Dow Chemical Company, Reuters, and Elsevier Science to turn large volumes of contextually based information into proactive business intelligence, that in turn helps them make better business decisions.

Feldman founded his new company Digital Trowel towards the end of 2008. Based in Airport City near Tel Aviv, it has created a tool which can be used for “sentiment analysis”.

“It means Netanyahu can find out what’s being said about him in forums and lists and twitters and magazine articles and newspapers – from minute to minute – and can have it all boiled down and analyzed,” explains an industry expert.

Feldman, a married father of four, who keeps an office at Airport City while working on research from his Jerusalem university office, says this is probably true.

“It’s flexible and enables you to learn from annotated documents. So the efforts you need to invest are five percent of what you needed using ClearForest.”

Inventing for investors, politics, marketing

Digital Trowel now employs 30 people, and has had an investment from a Fortune 500 company in the US.

“The ultimate buyer could be our investor,” says Feldman. “It’s a company that has a huge need for analysis of lots of information.”

“Say there are tens of millions of companies,” he explains. “You want to go to all those companies, sum up the info so you can visit the sites every week and see what’s changed, including information on the executives that work for these companies.”

It could also work for political campaigns. “I know Obama used these kinds of tools, but I don’t think they were as sophisticated as ours,” says Feldman who received his 
BSc in Math, Physics and Computer Science from the Hebrew University and his PhD in Computer Science from Cornell University in New York.

An Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Stern Business School, Feldman is also the author of the book The Text Mining Handbook published by Cambridge University Press in 2007.

And if you want to rub shoulders with this modest millionaire, you won’t find him at a popular techie conference like TechCrunch.

Best to meet Israel’s text mining guru on his playing field, like the KDD data mining conference coming up soon in Europe: “It’s the biggest data mining conference,” says Feldman somewhat excitedly, admitting that it’s for the very hard core in his field.

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About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman is an award-winning environment news publisher who founded Green Prophet (www.greenprophet.com) to connect North Americans to issues that matter in the Middle East. She is the CEO of the Internet of Things startup flux, a company that is making social grow tools for urban farmers everywhere (www.fluxiot.com). Karin can be reached at karin (at) fluxiot.com.