SSON presents a startup to watch: Starmind

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Barbara Hodge

Shortlisted for the SSON “Startup Zone” Award 2020 (North America), Starmind is an AI-driven knowledgebase tool that helps organizations like PepsiCo and Swiss Re leverage the combined knowledge of their global employees for quick and easy answers and solutions. Starmind joined SSON’s inaugural Startup Zone to pitch its solution to the thousands of attendees at SSO Week Live North America. Shortlisted for the winner’s circle, Starmind then faced SSON’s version of Shark Tank to defend its value proposition to the judging panel, alongside two other businesses that made the final cut. [The winner was Bid Ops – read about it here.] SSON’s editor, Barbara Hodge, sat down with Eric Storm, VP of the Americas operation (pictured), to find out what makes this business so impressive.



Starmind is the brainchild of two scientists – one a neuroscientist and the other a computer scientist – who, 10 years ago, created a network for the 50,000-strong global neuroscience community to facilitate the exchange of critical insights and knowledge. That initiative formed the foundation of what has today become a true enterprise application – an AI-driven, knowledgebase tool allowing organizations like PepsiCo and Swiss Re to tap the combined intelligence of their global employees for quick solutions. With under 100 employees, most based at the Swiss HQ, the company has been pushing into North America recently, and joined SSON’s North American Startup Zone to introduce its offering to the Shared Services / Business Services community.


Barbara Hodge: The pandemic has forced remote work onto organizations that previously relied on co-located teams. How has this driven an added urgency for knowledge-based solutions?

Eric Storm: It’s certainly the right tool for the right time. Consider that the number one problem enterprises cite is that they cannot get answers to questions required in order to proceed with a given workflow. What this means is that the efficiency of a process is interrupted while employees look for additional input or solutions. Enterprise silos are a fact of life and were difficult enough to circumvent in last year’s scenario. This year, with the physical contact removed, it’s even more urgent that organizations get instant access to relevant data.

So, in terms of meeting the requirements of the moment, we are spot on. There’s a real urgency around tapping into this type of data right now.

Of course there are obvious applications in areas like onboarding, which HR is quick to recognize. Given the remote work that defines today’s operations, Starmind enables a business to get relevant information to new hires much more effectively – and certainly much faster – than under previous scenarios.

Our value is based on the ability to unlock employees’ collective intelligence and expertise to supercharge productivity, innovation and career development. By tapping subject matter experts across enterprises, accessing undocumented knowledge, and generating employee skill profiles to support workforce planning, we have already helped businesses worldwide gain over $1.4 billion as a result of productivity savings.

HEAR MORE from Starmind at the 15th Annual Shared Services Woche (this year online and digital), where Starmind will be presenting its solution alongside multiple other innovative technology providers. Find out more – and register for free via this link.

Barbara Hodge: How does a knowledge-management tool like Starmind work, and what is the real game-changer you offer?

Eric Storm: The big challenge is to tap into solutions or answers that generally already exist in an enterprise … somewhere. We’ve solved for this by building a platform that seeks out the most commonly asked questions; identifies relevant topic-based experts; and automates this search capability by integrating it within the most commonly used applications. This last thing is important, because the thing we hear most often from customers is: “Please don’t give us another application!” They want the capability, but they don’t want more complexity. So integration has been a priority.

Our differentiator is our ability to identify experts. Our algorithm creates what we call an “Expert Wheel,” which lists all the experts on a given topic, scored according to their level of expertise, and tagged based on their interconnectivity to similar and relevant concepts.

When businesses understand that what we essentially offer is a fast track to the intelligence of their current – and even no longer current – experts, that is when the lightbulb goes off. Now, there are a number of knowledge-based solutions in the market already, that capture information and offer access – for example via document repositories or chat histories. There are hierarchy maps in Workday or SuccessFactors … lots of great solutions, right? But, when we “lift up the hood” of a business our solution can comb through huge sets of data to build expert profiles for every single employee in the organization. And from there we can do anything the enterprise needs. The beauty is that the company now ‘owns’ these insights, this data, so that counters the loss of knowledge as a result of attrition. But it also accelerates immediate access to information today. So that is the game-changing capability we offer.

Barbara Hodge: How is Starmind impacting enterprise operations?

Eric Storm: We are seeing a lot of interest driven by what’s happening across markets this year. PepsiCo have recently signed up to a multi-year contract and joins customers like Accenture, Swiss Re, and Zurich Insurance. One enterprise with a 10K user license is currently discussing scaling this up to a 120K user license.

Our solution is based on enterprise leaders having a lightbulb moment. For example, if we’re talking to IT, there is a moment when they recognize the opportunity to share more development information across all developers; if we’re talking to a helpdesk leader or someone tasked with employee experience, they recognize how this knowledge base can drive performance; and HR sees a way to finally build robust skills profiles without needing to rely on self-identification or managers checking boxes.

In fact, PepsiCo’s global SVP of Research and Development told us that she has revamped the entire knowledge management strategy within PepsiCo’s R&D team – and that she has done it through 'strong leadership' and 'Starmind'! So that is quite a feather in our cap.

READ ALSO: the article on "Institutional Knowledge" by Ellen de Brabander, SVP of R&D at PepsiCo

However, because the offering is all about data we also need to tap into enterprise systems, and here’s where it can get sticky. Security issues, legal process, information security … all of this can take a while to sort out. Of course having PepsiCo, Accenture or Swiss Re as a reference helps. Swiss Re probably has some of the most stringent data rules about, right now.

Barbara Hodge: How is the data collected that drives the value-add?

Eric Storm: The magic lies in meta data – data about data. So, we look at multiple forms of data across five families of connectors: HRIS systems, chat systems, document repositories, calendar systems, and industry specific systems. The one channel we don’t tap into is emails because we believe that is just too intrusive.

The key thing is that all this meta-data is based on bespoke ontologies. We don’t apply a “pre-ordained ontology” – meaning we don’t come to a company with a list of keywords that we think are important. Our algorithms create an ontology tailored to a company, including common acronyms and internal jargon. So all tags and connectivity are based on the corporate and industry specific language to that customer. For a bank, recently, we identified “swaption” as a key term, for example.

One important factor is that leveraging the capability is not dependent on accessing it through our user interface. We build our solution into whatever application is in use. Again, customers tell us they don’t want to have to learn a new tool, a new platform. They just want the added capability within their existing tools. So they get the power of what Starmind can do within Microsoft Teams, ServiceNow, Slack, or SharePoint, essentially wherever they already work. We’ve prioritized integration. And that makes a huge difference.

Barbara Hodge: How is Starmind’s culture guided by its founders?

Eric Storm: Starmind was created to connect tens of thousands of niche specialists around the world to share knowledge. An executive from UBS who was shown the platform immediately recognized its value for corporate enterprise. It was a light bulb moment in terms of connecting employees for the benefit of the business.

That passion for providing answers still guides our business today.

Marc Vontobel, CEO and co-founder, is an inspirational leader. His vision guides everything we do. Witnessing his passion for the solution and seeing the interest he takes in every single customer is hugely motivating.

Barbara Hodge: As you consider the future, what lies ahead?

Eric Storm: The conversation today is all about Covid-19, of course. But beyond that, it’s about embracing and enabling Future of Work scenarios that are already playing out. Flexible work hours and locations will remain “a thing”. What that means is that Starmind is suddenly so incredibly relevant. We need to be more efficient in allocating time, and optimizing any face-to-face time that may form part of future work patterns. And this is where Starmind can really help, by providing faster access to critical information and to subject matter experts – virtually. So although everyone is operating remote, they are not losing access to anyone.

New ways of working will drive companies to be more innovative in terms of the communication channels they offer employees. Collaboration requires data exchange. It’s that simple. And that exchange needs to be quick, real-time, and easy to access. We offer new ways to get hold of that information securely, in order to maintain workflow.

If you are interested in finding out about the 2021 Startup Zone, or taking part, please email

HEAR MORE from Starmind at the 15th Annual Shared Services Woche (this year online and digital), where Starmind will be presenting its solution alongside a multitude of other innovative technology providers. Find out more – and register for free via this link.