IBM's startup guy: We're cracking new markets

Drew Clark expounds on IBM's prolific partnerships with vertical analytics startups -- and hints at new public cloud services from IBM

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Because you remember, the background of IBM is we're plumbers, right? We build the infrastructure, so in many cases, we need the apps and services that the entrepreneurs are bringing forward to kind of complete the solution picture. It's complementary.

Knorr: It seems IBM is more and more interested in startups outside mainstream IT. You're even going as far as clean tech.

Clark: Oh yeah, absolutely. You bet. In fact, we have a company here today, SecureWaters, in the clean tech space. They have a water quality monitoring system. What they do is they sell an outcome, which is safe water. They do real-time sampling of the water. Suppose we're talking about a reservoir somewhere, like Hetch Hetchy, somewhere in their system. They have a sensor that collects water. It either collects it as a sample or it continuously monitors. You can do it either way. Their company is two pieces. It's a device, and it's analytical software, and the two work together.

Knorr: So it's still IT related -- sort of like bioinformatics.

Clark: It's incredibly complicated software. You're going to see the IT piece in a second. The sensor -- this is the wildest part and people can't even believe this -- actually observes the behavior of the bacteria that's in the water, and apparently the bacteria behaves differently in the presence of certain toxins, certain chemicals, certain toxins and toxic substances, and it's repeatable.

They introduce these compounds that they're trying to find, and they observe the behavior, and they make a signature of that. And they plug that into the algorithm. When they're monitoring and they see that behavior they say -- oh, this is a heavy metal in the water. It's very clever the way they do it. They have a video camera that can look at the algae and the bacteria ... which in the presence of some heavy metal alkaloid or something jump up and down, or in the presence of other things swim left to right.

Knorr: Pattern recognition.

Clark: Yeah, and that's analytics. They're doing analytics in a very different way from what you tend to think about, yet it's a very powerful application of analytics. It really is a software business, a very analytical business, it just happens to have a collection point. A lot of Smarter Planet businesses are like this. I got to tell you about one more because these are so cool.

Knorr: I don't think I could stop you if I wanted to.

Clark: They have a smartphone app and the sensor is the camera. All these companies are kind of outcome driven. Their outcome is a long life. They want you to live longer. They help detect skin cancer.

Knorr: Wow.

Clark: So you take a picture with your camera of a suspicious mole or lesion or whatever, they [SkinScan] send it back to their server, and here's the cool part -- they run fractal geometry against the image. I mean, these are two kids. They came up with this I don't know where. Fractal geometry, you have to see this to believe it. And they take the photograph of a very innocuous-looking thing. It's just a brown blob.

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