Outnumbered but strong, two big data startups pitch at TechStars Boston

Big data startups were in the minority at TechStars Boston Demo Day, but they were nonetheless represented.

The term “big data” refers to the huge volume of information generated by sensors, machines, social networks — as well as PCs and servers. There is so much of it, and it’s generated so fast, that the volume outstrips the ability of traditional database and analytics tools to process.

There may have only been two big data pitches at Demo Day, but both companies presenting at The Wilbur Theater on Thursday are attacking big problems.

Mortar Data brings Hadoop to mere mortals

Mortar Data CEO K Young touted the ability of his company’s service to put big data within the reach of companies that don’t have a ton of Hadoop expertise — that would be most companies —  and of programmers that know Python. And that’s just the beginning: “We’re within reach of making Hadoop work with any language,” Young told attendees.

As GigaOM’s Derrick Harris  reported early last month:

Rather than requiring users to write complicated MapReduce jobs, Mortar Data lets them run Hadoop jobs using a custom-built combination of Python and the SQL-like Pig language. In that regard, Mortar Data is more akin to the Infochimps Platform, which offers its own Wukong tool for creating Hadoop jobs with Ruby scripts.

“The big Hadoop players are excited to work with us since Hadoop is beyond the reach of many customers,” Young told the crowd.

The company has some early customers including Intent Media, an advertising technology company. And potential users include energy companies which could use it to predict utility loads based on weather forecast data.

Bison sifts financial data for alternative investors

Bison Alternative claims it will take all that messy financial reporting and other information about venture capital, private equity and hedge funds that make up the alternative investment universe and prioritize them for the endowments and foundations that are looking to invest in them.

Bison CEO Michael Nugent, who used to research and invest in such funds, said the process is painful. “I spent all my time sifting through documents. That market operates on a Rolodex and spreadsheet mode. It’s never heard of structured data and is ripe for disruption,” he said.

Foundations and endowments traditionally hired people to pore through these documents in search of good invesmtents, but budget cutting has thinned their ranks and the sheer amount of information on potential  investments has soared. Bison can boil down all that information and put it in a useful consumer-friendly format for its customers, he said.

Bison (the acronym stands for Boston Illiquid Securities Offering Network) will charge $4,000 a month for its software as a service and sees the target market being 6,000 investment firms. The company just brought on Jeff Parker, former CEO and chairman of Thomson Financial, as an investor and board member.

Bison is looking to raise $1.5 million, $500,000 of which is committed.

Why so little big data?

Since Boston is home to a ton of database startups, it seemed odd that only two of companies presenting had a big data focus. Most of the rest– Psykosoft, Shopsy, Übersense, Pact, Libboo.com, Laveem,and Simply Good Technologies, Zagster– are pure-play consumer startups. (The other, docTrackr, is a business application for tracking and securing business documents no matter where they are sent or stored.)

On the other hand, that big data/consumer mix reflects the ratio of consumer startups to big data startups in the world at large, said Demo Day attendee and angel investor John Landry.

(For more on TechStars Demo Day check out this roundup in BostonInno.)