Stavros Theodorakis & Vassilis Pitsikalis of Deeplab tell us about bridging the gap between academic research and industrial products.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Stavros Theodorakis: Thanks for asking! Fortunately, we are all doing well. Undoubtedly it has been a difficult year for all of us, but we try to stay positive, keep ourselves occupied, and we are optimistic that this will be over soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Deeplab.
Vassilis Pitsikalis: We have known each other for more than a decade after collaborating during our PhDs and as post-doctoral researchers in several EU research projects. Having built strong research expertise while employing machine learning technology in multiple research applications, we identified a big opportunity of applying this type of technology in real-world industrial products. So this is when we took the initiative to establish Deeplab with the vision to bridge the gap between academic research and industrial products. Our goal was to blend together new research ideas and the technology that have been developed during our academic years with the development of innovative industrial products.
How does Deeplab innovate?
Stavros Theodorakis: At Deeplab, we provide state-of-the-art ML solutions. We work with large-scale products that serve billions of users producing big data (e.g. >1B requests per day). We design and develop scalable, cutting-edge ML algorithms encapsulated within engineering pipelines for fast and easy ML research and experimentation, model tracking, orchestration, computing resources allocation, CI/CD workflows, model deployment, and performance monitoring. In our algorithmic backbone, we employ deep learning together with our wide experience towards bringing a clear competitive advantage to the product.
We build innovative AI-powered solutions in areas such as recommender systems, early stages in drug development, e.g. in-silico virtual screening, single-cell multi-omics data integration, cybersecurity, fraud detection and prevention, pricing optimization, automotive driver behavior modeling, and stock market price modeling and forecasting.
Our services are coupled with the knowledge of experts and the dreams of enthusiasts across any area that can benefit from machine learning. To name but a few, such areas could span a great deal of cases such as daily life, education, business, art, entertainment, healthcare, and assistive living. In these, Deeplab can offer customized solutions adapted to the specific needs providing new perspectives.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Vassilis Pitsikalis: At the beginning of the pandemic, there was some anxiety, but we remained calm. We were worried about the effects on the worldwide business since this situation was unprecedented. Prior to the coronavirus epidemic, we had already established a remote working culture, so talking about work, the adoption to the new conditions was an easy procedure for us; though we surely lack the face to face communication, since our team is strongly bonded and our chemistry is one of our strong ingredients for successful work. Drawing up the line, overall, we cannot say that it has specifically and in the current short-term a negative impact for our case; we are facing less negative effects than other businesses that were forced to quit. In that respect, we remain open and continue to offer our services to our clients remotely, launch new projects and partnerships. Of course, the overall market is affected by a lot, and this has a more mid to long-term impact, and this is expected to affect us in the long run. We are on a modest stand-by mode, and we shall see. I would like to note that we are also thoughtful about how we can contribute given the situation both in scientific R&D /engineering terms and not only to society and our country.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Stavros Theodorakis: We didn’t really have to make difficult decisions given the fact that our work was not directly affected; however, we had to refocus our approach to address new challenges brought on by COVID-19. To approach this, we addressed opportunities in the field of bioinformatics, so we took the initiative to expand our business activities in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry towards the development of new directions related to drug discovery, among others.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Vassilis Pitsikalis: We are glad we had the remote work infrastructure already established before covid 19, so nothing really changed in that sense. Online communication tools such as meet/zoom/teams for our teleconference meetings, slack for chat, and also project management tools such as Jira were in our daily routine from the very beginning.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Stavros Theodorakis: The competition is big, and there are multiple key players in the industry. To stay in the game, we have to catch up with new technological breakthroughs and constantly innovate. That’s why we invest a lot in our R&D while keeping very strong links with academia, i.e. top-tier university labs in our field, collaborating and contributing to academic research too. Another important ingredient is constantly exploring new opportunities in different industries, whereas our technology can be applied and make a big impact.
Your final thoughts?
Vassilis Pitsikalis: First of all, we wish this will be over soon, and we will return to a state of normalcy. The past year has been very challenging for everyone at both personal and professional levels. 2020 was a year of constant obstacles, and we all endeavored to adjust to a new situation, keep healthy and safe and at the same time manage our daily workload. We envision to continue innovating while providing hi-tech state-of-the-art intelligent solutions which deal with real problems across interdisciplinary domains and applications, especially in healthcare in which we have recently initiated to pursue.
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