Getting Better Answers Faster: Providence Software Startup Dynadec Goes Way Beyond the Traveling Salesman Problem

6/15/09Follow @wroush

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bootstrap using customer relationships. We are already working with between four and eight really interested prospects, and when I say interested, that means they are willing to pay for the pilot and collect all the data we need and give us that data. Most of them are in those three areas of routing, scheduling, and workforce management, with some in a little more extreme parts of those areas.

X: You must be an engineering-heavy company right now. How are you staffing up the company—are you recruiting graduates from your lab at Brown?

PVH: One of the things I have been trained to do is work over the long term with people. Some of the scientists who are at Dynadec are either former PhD students of mine or colleagues of mine, and that’s the way we try to recruit—we try to recruit people we trust that have a very broad and deep background and are open to new technologies and who we know are team players. This is a critical issue and one of the areas we are putting a lot of effort into, reaching the right people. It’s a very exciting opportunity for young PhDs. They can see some of their research being applied to complex and dynamic problems in the real world, which is getting harder and harder to do in academia.

X: Are you on leave from Brown while you build the company?

PVH: Exactly. I’m on sabbatical right now and I have been talking to Brown about taking leave or having the company buy some or all of my research time from Brown. This is a full-time job. But Brown is very cooperative and they understand what you have to do to build a startup.

X: Why did you decide to base the company in Providence?

PVH: We did it here because it was very convenient. We are close to Brown. As you probably know, the computer science department at Brown is truly outstanding, and we hope that some of the exceptional undergraduates and graduate students will join us. It’s also very convenient for me.

X: Is Rhode Island a good place to build a technology startup?

PVH: Rhode Island is in need of more high-tech companies. There are some advantages from a tax standpoint [to locate in Rhode Island], and it’s great for the state to keep some of the talent here and to build a company in the state where the technology was developed. Many of the investors in the company are from Rhode Island, and they want ot keep it and build it here in the community.

X: Who are the investors?

PVH: Most of the investors are local business people here. I know Jim Gladney of Liberty Capital because our children went to school together. I went to see Jim, and he decided to invest and brought many of the people he knew. And also Brown invested, and we have invested personally, too. And we have some super angel investors in Rhode Island.

X: Okay, now for the question I’ve been putting off—the technology question. What is different about Dynadec’s approach to optimization? What kinds of problems can you uniquely solve?

PVH: Let me answer in two steps, at as high a level as possible. The applications that we will target have two components—an optimization component and a component of decision making under uncertainty.

From an optimization standpoint, what we need are techniques that can find high-quality solutions quickly. You may have to make a decision in 30 seconds or less. In that time, you don’t care if the decision is optimal; you care about getting the best solution in the time frame. The technologies we are working with are not based on proving mathematically that you have found the best solution, they are based on finding a high-quality solution quickly. It uses constraint programming based on local searches, and trying to expose as much of the structure of the problem as possible and use it either to explore the search space quickly or focus on … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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