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How understanding human fuzzy data earned Suranga a serious fortune

The young head of a high-flying Cambridge technology spin-out company has spoken exclusively to Business about it’s success, and it’s future.

Cambridge, University-educated Suranga Chandratillake is the chief executive of blinkx, which was launched five years ago as an offshoot of Autonomy.

Five years on, the company has grown from a staff complement of four to 120, a third of whom are based on the Cambridge Science Park. Its annual turnover is £20m - and it is worth £350m.

The business idea that has triggered such phenomenal growth is a search engine, called blinkx, which trawls the internet for video content.

Mr. Chandratillake, 32, who studied computer science at King’s, is the man behind it.

He said: “After university I worked for Autonomy and they wanted to grow in America, so they moved me out there, as their chief technology officer, for a number of years.

“Autonomy’s business has always been founded on selling brilliant software to government agencies, but it was felt that it would be good also to build something useful to the man in the street, and while I was in America, we tried out a few ideas.

“The video one was the one that took hold. Autonomy’s core technology is all about getting computers to understand fuzzy human data. Human beings are great at soaking up all different kinds of information and analysing it, but computers tend to be good at the very structured mathematical stuff.

“On the internet, video content is notoriously difficult to find - you may have a title, or a description, or tags, but most of the information is in the video itself, which is a collection of moving images and sound, and computers traditionally don’t understand them very well.

“The technology we use enables a computer to behave like a kind of electronic TV addict, using visual analysis and speech recognition to extract the meaning of a video.

“The way it works is that people go onto our website and, using our software, can trawl the entire internet looking for video content. blinkx searches for it and finds it.”

The website is free to use, and makes money for the company via the advertising it hosts.

Because online video advertising is becoming so popular, blinkx’s Stock Market standing is soaring. It went public in 2007, raising £30m, and since then has “hit all its metrics”, as Mr Chandratillake puts it, achieving every yearly target for growth and turnover.

Such success obviously makes the company a prime candidate for being sold, but he said that no offers have yet been made.

He said: “A bid for the company might come at any time, and if we got the right offer, we’d obviously have to take it to the shareholders, but that hasn’t happened yet.

“We have very exciting plans for future development in the medium to long-term, so we will be pressing ahead with them, including looking at two big additional applications for our software - phones and television.

“We took a big gamble to leave the fold of Autonomy and launch blinkx, but we had a sense of adventure. It hasn’t failed, and four of the six original Cambridge development team are still with the company.”