Last month Logentries, a spin-out company from University College Dublin, was acquired by US firm Rapid7 for about €63 million. The company was founded in 2010 by Dr Trevor Parsons and Dr Viliam Holub.
National policy on research and innovation encourages the development of successful spin-outs such as this. It is instructive, therefore, to take a look at the history of Logentries and the research background from which it emerged.
The company is focused on “big data”. Every day organisations all over the world generate billions of log events on their computer systems. Within this mass of data lie nuggets of information that can be of strategic value to the organisation. Sifting through the data to find these nuggets is a vast and time-consuming task, which has traditionally required specialist expertise.
The big contribution of Logentries has been to deliver a user-friendly technology for access to and analysis of this data, allowing users at any level to mine for these valuable nuggets.
The company emerged from the Performance Engineering Laboratory in UCD’s school of computer science, led by Prof John Murphy and Prof Liam Murphy.
Starting in 2001, the laboratory began a series of research projects in the area of large-scale software systems. The work was funded over the years by grants from Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland, combining synergistically to build the scope of the activity. In 2004 the laboratory established what was to be a long-lasting and fruitful engagement with IBM Dublin's Software Group, bringing access to real data and large-scale systems, as well as to key IBM personnel.
Parsons and Holub had obtained their PhDs in UCD and Charles University in Prague, respectively, before joining the Performance Engineering Laboratory as postdoctoral researchers. Through their PhD studies they had developed their ability to tackle new problems, learn new analysis techniques and propose innovative solutions. Reflecting on the way Logentries made sense of complex data for a wide range of users, Parsons said: “We like to think that we did the PhDs so our users don’t have to.”
Parsons and Holub developed their expertise further during their postdoctoral work. The link with IBM brought first-hand understanding of industrial priorities and concerns. The flexibility afforded by the research environment in the laboratory allowed them to explore new areas and grow their autonomy.
UCD has a number of mechanisms to support the translation of research activities into commercial opportunity. In 2010 Logentries participated in the UCD Campus Company Development Programme held at NovaUCD, the university’s centre for new ventures and entrepreneurs. The company won the start-up company of the year award and was based initially at NovaUCD.
As Logentries grew, it was one of the first companies to participate in the National Digital Research Centre's LaunchPad programme, and later located in Dogpatch Labs in Dublin's Digital Docklands. It met all the challenges necessary for success: developing and selling a world-beating technology, accessing finance and growing the talent pool. These challenges are separately and collectively highly complex, and many strong start-ups fail to overcome them.
When it was acquired, Logentries had raised €9.5 million in funding and had about 70 employees. It was by then headquartered in Boston, with a research and development team in Dublin, and served more than 3,000 customers in more than 65 countries.
The success of Logentries is a testament to the vision and dedication of its two founders – creative and capable individuals with a great idea.
The first step in developing and realising that idea came when they met in an environment committed to delivering excellent research and innovation and to developing excellent research-trained individuals, supported by an involved enterprise partner and by a complementary network of funding agencies.
Our ability nationally to generate spin-out companies from research is now well up to international standards. The challenge now is to make these companies competitive and investable as early as possible, and to ensure that supports are in place at each stage of their evolution so that we see more of our spin-outs emulate the success of Logentries.
- Orla Feely is vice-president for research, innovation and impact at University College Dublin. firstname.lastname@example.org