The Tom Tom Founders Festival’s inaugural Fall Forum on Friday will feature two panel discussions on major growth industries in the Charlottesville area: biotechnology and machine learning.
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence that allows computers to learn from data without human intervention. Over the last decade, an exponential increase in computing power and usable data has made machine learning one of the hottest areas of computer science.
“The more data you feed a good machine learning model, the better it gets over time,” said Randy Caldejon, CEO of Crozet cybersecurity startup CounterFlow AI.
Caldejon is one of the panelists for “Machine Learning: Revolutionizing Virginia Industries” at the Fall Forum. He will be joined by Miriam Friedel, director of commercial analytics at Elder Research; Todd Kennedy, senior vice president at Capital One; Jeannine Melican, vice president for commercial products at MDA Information Systems; and Michael Prichard, CEO of Metis Machine.
Caldejon’s startup has developed a machine learning platform to help cybersecurity analysts filter out false alarms and rank the severity of active threats.
Security operations centers for large businesses and governments must fend off more than a million attempted hacks every day, far more than even a large team of analysts can keep up with, Caldejon said.
“You’re seeing a shift from a passive, ‘Wait and see until [the hackers] get through,’ to actively hunting down malware and threats,” he said. “With CounterFlow AI, cybersecurity analysts will have a better idea of what they are going to work on each day.”
The rise of artificial intelligence has sparked some fears about computers and robots replacing human workers, Caldejon said. Machine learning also powers targeted marketing efforts on social media that have been criticized for violating individual privacy and spreading false information.
“It’s a new and emerging technology, and any time you have something new that you don’t understand, it raises some concerns,” he said. “Machine learning can be used for good or bad purposes. It’s more of an ethical question than a technological one.”
Prichard’s startup, Metis Machine, is offering artificial intelligence as a service for select industries.
Prichard said Metis Machine can help factories reduce manufacturing costs by anticipating varying energy prices. Prichard’s company’s machine learning platform has predicted energy prices in a 30-day range with 98 percent accuracy, he said.
In one case, Metis Machine used data from Dominion Energy and regional transmission organization PJM, along with NOAA weather data, to help a client schedule its manufacturing operations on days when demand for electricity was low.
Prichard, a 2017 recipient of Tom Tom’s Founding Cville award, said the client achieved a 20 percent reduction in costs and a 400 percent return on its investment in Metis Machine’s analytics.
“You don’t have to be Amazon or Google to use machine learning,” he said. “I think every business has an opportunity to use this to augment their work.”
Another panel, “Driving Biotech in the Next Decade,” will feature five CEOs discussing opportunities and challenges facing the Virginia biotech and life sciences industry.
The panel includes Martin Chapman, president of Indoor Biotechnologies
; Kevin Eisenfrats of Contraline; Crystal Icenhour of Aperiomics; Andrew Krouse of Cavion; and Jim Powers of Hemoshear
While Icenhour’s company is based in Ashburn, the other panelists represent companies in the Charlottesville area.
Chapman, also a 2017 Founding Cville award recipient, co-founded the CvilleBioHub, a nonprofit networking organization dedicated to supporting the growth of biotech and life sciences in the Charlottesville area.
Chapman said the availability of laboratory space and other critical infrastructure for biotech companies would be the greatest — but not only — limitation to the industry’s growth locally and around the state.
“You also have to generate a community that other biotech companies can see is thriving,” he said. “It’s a combination of having the physical infrastructure and the right set of companies, investors and talent.”
Chapman said his Fall Forum panel will discuss whether Virginia should try to guide investment and resources toward specific areas of research, such as neuroscience.
“It’s about what we perceive to be Virginia’s strengths in biotechnology — what we can bring to the table that other states can’t,” he said.
“The challenge, and potential pitfall of highlighting particular areas is that you never know where the next breakthrough is going to come from,” he added. “You don’t want the state to be picking winners.”
While research at the University of Virginia has made Charlottesville a hotbed for the development of new drugs and medical devices, Icenhour said Northern Virginia has become a leading provider of computational and information technology services for the health care industry.
Icenhour moved to Northern Virginia to lead Aperiomics, a company that uses DNA and RNA sequencing to identify all known pathogens with a single test. She previously co-founded Phthisis, a molecular diagnostics company in Charlottesville that was acquired by Minnesota-based Microbiologics in 2013.
“Little pockets of innovation are starting to emerge across Virginia,” she said. “Virginia has all of the resources we need, from amazing universities to great talent. The opportunity here is to work on new and better ways to connect the dots throughout the state’s different regions to build a stronger biotech ecosystem.”
Icenhour, Chapman, Krouse and Powers serve on the board of VABio, a nonprofit trade association for the life sciences industry in Virginia.
Icenhour said she supports Virginia’s collaboration with nearby states, especially Maryland, to promote the region’s innovation brand.
“We don’t need to compete with Maryland; there is plenty of space for both places to be successful,” she said. “Instead of trying to beat somebody else, it’s a matter of leveraging resources we have.”
Participation in the Tom Tom Fall Forum required advance registration and the event is at capacity. Tomtoberfest, a two-day festival and block party at Emancipation Park
, is free and open to the public and begins at 5 p.m. Friday.