With Quickstep Sale, WI Professor Patel Flips Third Startup

Jignesh Patel seems to have a knack for spinning university research into startups that attract a buyer.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison computer sciences professor and serial entrepreneur scored his latest win this week, when San Francisco-based Pivotal snapped up Quickstep Technologies, a big data startup launched in January after six years of research by Patel and a group of graduate students. Pivotal paid an undisclosed sum of cash to acquire the Quickstep business and its employees, and it also licensed Quickstep patents from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

The deal marks the third time a Patel co-founded startup has been sold. Two years ago, Twitter acquired another Patel company, mobile data analytics provider Locomatix, for an undisclosed sum. And in 1997, NCR bought Paradise, a satellite image analysis product that Patel and other UW-Madison researchers developed on campus.

His secret to success is simple: “Hire good people and empower them—and get out of the way when they do what you hired them to do,” Patel says in a phone interview.

Jignesh Patel

Jignesh Patel

Patel will take a one-year leave of absence from the university to become Pivotal’s chief scientist. The other Quickstep staff members will also join Pivotal, he says.

Quickstep was incubated at the university with the help of National Science Foundation grants. The research led to a data processing engine that is “designed to allow software to be in lock-step, as well as to exploit, advances in hardware utilization and optimization,” according to a press release. It has applications in data analytics and machine learning.

The technology should allow businesses to crunch vast amounts of data more quickly and efficiently—and at a lower cost. “We want to democratize the benefits of big data,” Patel says.

Quickstep’s technology will be integrated with Pivotal’s suite of data processing products. Pivotal also provides software development services and an open cloud platform.

“Enterprises are seeking ever faster speeds for their data so that they can affect outcomes in real time,” Sundeep Madra, vice president of Pivotal’s data product group, says in the press release. “Quickstep brings to Pivotal a fresh way of thinking about data, one aligned to new capabilities in hardware and demanding expectations today’s businesses have.”

Pivotal was at the top of Patel’s list of potential suitors for Quickstep, he says, partly because its big data products will complement Quickstep’s technology “perfectly” and Pivotal has a strong business team that “knows how to sell to enterprise customers.”

Patel decided to sell now because Quickstep’s technology had matured enough that it was ready for prime time. “Basically, the timing is right,” he says. “It feels fantastic.”

“It’s great to not only have success, but to prove that the university is still a leader in developing cutting-edge research ideas in this space of big data,” he continues. “It’s traditionally been a powerhouse. It’s great that we still have that leadership.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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