What's New in Business: Astronomer has big plans for making data more useful

OTR company organizes information for analysts

CINCINNATI - With more businesses relying on the analysis of massive piles of data to guide their decisions, there's a great opportunity for so-called data engineers — folks who make sure that data is in a form that's actually useful to the analysts who are looking for an advantage in the marketplace. Over-the-Rhine-based Astronomer thinks it has a good algorithm for success by selling that data-organizing skill.

Some big local and national names in venture capital agree.

What do they do?

It’s not about stargazing. It’s about focusing on your data. Astronomer says it has the data engineers who help you get your data ready for the data analysts.

“There is a lot of cool (stuff) you can do with your data,” co-owner Ryan Walker said, “but it’s not doing you much good if it’s just sitting in a box on a shelf.”

How does that work?

Astronomer uses a proprietary, Internet-based platform that helps companies organize their own data, but it also makes it easier to grab data from functions they’ve outsourced to other companies and from the public domain. For example, Astronomer is working with a cafeteria owner to integrate the owner’s data about customer spending habits with public data about the weather to see if more customers show up on bad-weather or good-weather days.

Who are the founders?

Tim Brunk, 32, and Walker, 43, two experienced Cincinnati tech entrepreneurs.

In 2012, Brunk started his first tech company, Cladwell, a web service that helps shoppers figure out what size clothes they should be buying and connects them with retailers that sell them. It now has several hundred thousand users, Brunk said. He left that company 18 months ago to start Astronomer.

About the time Brunk was co-founding Cladwell, Walker was co-founding Differential, which builds software products for startups and corporate innovators. Walker remains a partner in that company.

Are there other investors?

Yes, they include Charlie Key, another tech entrepreneur who co-founded Modulus, 1739 Elm St., which hosts a particular kind of software language called Node.js. The company began when developers who were trying to build a game in Node.js found they couldn’t find a place on the Internet to run it simply. Modulus was purchased in 2014 by Progress Software, a Bedford, Massachusetts-based company.

Key now runs an Internet company called Structure, which shares office space with Astronomer.

Who are the company’s competitors?

The competition usually comes from potential customers who want to do their own data organization internally. “The pros are that you get a custom solution,” Brunk said. “The problem is that you have to build it. It takes a long time, and then you have to maintain it, which is even worse.”

Astronomer’s value proposition is that their system is already built and it’s the company’s full-time job to maintain it, he said. “We’ve figured out how to automate a lot of the highly manual work and how to keep (a system) just configurable and customizable enough so that it can feel like custom solution” for each customer, he said.

How big is the company?

There are six employees, including the two co-founders. It’s a highly technical team, Brunk said, most of them web developers and “super-nerdy.” The company processes about 150 million data points every month and has several large paying customers.

What honors has the company received?

Astronomer won a $20,000 grand prize award in the Cincinnati Innovates contest held by CincyTech USA, which Brunk said is probably the most widely known venture-capital group in the region. The company was also accepted into the No. 1 business accelerator program in the country, AngelPad. As part of the program, Brunk and Walker spent several weeks last fall in New York City and San Francisco culminating in a demonstration day in November. The program taught them a lot about the business, but it also helped them raise venture capital dollars.

How well funded is the company?

The partners have raised about $500,000 so far; they want to raise another $1 million or so.

What’s the next step?

Management is working on how better to describe what the company does, Walker said, because that will help the company refine its marketing and gather more customers. 

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