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Workday Venture Fund Focuses on Machine Learning, Data Science

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Posted July 15, 2015 By Ann All     Feedback

Workday is investing in startups that use data science and machine learning to solve enterprise problems.

Workday decided to put its money where its mouth is. The provider of cloud finance and human resources apps, which late last year announced a suite of software that it said leveraged data science and machine learning methods, has launched a venture capital fund focused on early-stage startups that utilize data science and machine learning to tackle enterprise challenges.

Called Workday Ventures, the fund has already invested in four startups:

  • Jobr, a mobile job aggregator that helps people browse and apply for jobs, by using a recommendation engine that scans more than a million job postings and learns and recommends the positions best suited to candidates.
  • Metanautix, provider of an analytics engine that enables users to combine and search a multitude of unstructured, structured, and relational data sources using industry standard SQL.
  • ThinAir, a security platform that uses machine-driven patterns as well as a set of automated protection capabilities and alerts to keep data safe and under control.
  • Unbabel, a Web translation service that combines machine learning and human crowdsourcing to provide cost-effective translations.

Adeyemi Ajao, vice president, Technology Product Strategy, for Workday, said the company started the fund to address a dearth in funding options for startups focused on data science and machine learning, which Workday believes will drive the next wave of enterprise applications.

"We started Workday Ventures because we saw a gap in the enterprise world," he said. "On one hand, there were a lot of young companies with strong machine learning and data science backgrounds trying to solve enterprise problems, but on the other hand, we didn’t see any enterprise-focused corporate fund with a focus on machine learning and data science."

In addition to funding, Workday said startups associated with the fund will receive guidance from its executives, board members, engineers, customers and partners.

It's possible some of Workday's investments could lead to acquisitions, given its recent history. Earlier this year it purchased Upshot, creator of a mobile app that lets users make natural language queries on data stored in CRM systems. The purchase was driven, in part, by Workday's interest in machine learning, said Dan Beck, the company's senior vice president, Product Marketing and Technology Strategy, in a statement on Workday's website.

"It’s relatively easy to find Ph.D.s that have strong statistical backgrounds, but there’s a pretty small pool of people who have strong statistical, machine learning and world-class programming skills packaged with enterprise experience," he said. "We acquired Upshot for the best reasons there are -- talent and innovation."

In addition, last year Workday acquired Identified, a company that provided recruiting software based on predictive analytics technology.

Workday's acquisitions are "about bringing phenomenal talent and technology into our platform and products," Beck said.

Workday is not the only technology company with a venture fund. Others include Google, which has invested $2 billion in 300 startups, including Uber and Slack; Salesforce, which has a $100 million fund for startups creating mobile apps on its Salesforce1 platform; and SAP, which late last year spun off its $1.4 billion venture fund into an independent firm.

Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.

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