Vancouver-based Octothorpe Software has come a long way in two short years.
In 2008 they entered the New Ventures BC Competition but did not progress past the second round. This year they have been engaged by the competition to assist with decision analytics as well as continuing to improve New Ventures BC’s decision process.
Does this mean that decisions on what companies advance in the competition will be made by software systems?
Not quite. As Octothorpe Software founder and CEO Peter Tingling explained during a phone interview, “software doesn’t make decisions, people do.”
New Ventures BC Executive Director Bob de Wit explains the role of Octothorpe in this year’s competition best. “At New Ventures BC it’s critical that our jury process be transparent and defensible so that the companies entering our competition know where they stand relative to other companies at their stage of corporate development. Over the past few years the number of companies — and the judges required to review them — has more than doubled and the jury process has become more complicated. Octothorpe has dramatically improved our ability to deal with uncertainty, reduce the impact of biases between judges, and most importantly, provided more information to the companies entering our competition by more clearly identifying their strengths and weaknesses.”
To expand on that, Octothorpe’s role this year has been two-fold.
First, they conducted workshops with this year’s judges to educate them on the potential biases that creep into decision making. According to Tingling, there are a large number of biases that people bring to the table without even realizing it and the goal was to reduce or mitigate these biases upfront.
While there are more than 3 dozen identified biases that can be reduced using specific techniques, Tingling gives an example that American Idol fans will be familiar with – the Simon Cowell problem. “The basic problem is this: You have a group of judges. One is a “tough” judge. They tend to give average candidates a low rating and “good” candidates a rating equal to other judges average ratings. The net result is that when multiple judging is used that ranking can become inverted. Good cases are excluded and poor cases can advance. It is equivalent to working for a tough boss who rewards the top 5% of their employees while easier bosses reward a weaker 10%.”
Second, they’re analyzing the judge’s data on this year’s competitors and providing feedback to both the competition organizers as well as the competitors themselves.
According to their website, Octothorpe is a Decision Sciences Company. Octothorpe’s intellectual property is in decision theory and they pride themselves in incorporating leading edge research and industrial best practices. They have a US patent on their unique approach and several PhDs in decision theory on staff that have conducted award-winning research on decision processes.
Octothorpe’s founders have decades of experience working with Fortune 500, government, pharmaceutical, games and sport organizations. Their most recent accolade was for their study tracking the role of wealth in innovation in the National Hockey League which was presented last month at the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada 2010 conference and was awarded Best Paper in the Sports and Tourism Division.
As with any competition where there is money at stake, transparency around the judging process is imperative. Octothorpe is in the business of better decisions and there is no doubt that this year’s competitors will be better off for it.