US media giants back Christchurch start-up

Details have emerged of the multi-million dollar deal between Christchurch start-up GlobalBrain.net and Internet portal company Snap.com, which was sealed last month. Snap.com, owned by US media giant NBC and Internet media company CNET, has taken a 10% stake in the Kiwi company and has effectively made it part of its R&D team.

Internet portal company Snap.com has forged a multimillion dollar deal with Christchurch start-up GlobalBrain.net to use GlobalBrain.net's search engine technology which potentially improves search results by learning user preferences.

Details of the deal, which was first mentioned in Computerworld June 21, reveal that Snap.com, which is owned by US media giant NBC and Internet media company CNET, has also taken a 10% stake in the Kiwi company and has an ongoing development agreement effectively making GlobalBrain.net part of its R&D team in the Internet market.

Although registered in California, GlobalBrain.net is based in Christchurch and 90% is owned by New Zealanders. GlobalBrain.net founder and CEO Grant Ryan has taken the technology from idea to deal in 12 months. He started the company a year ago when he saw how other search engine companies were making money. "I actually had the idea for the technology four years ago and didn't think a lot of it. It wasn't until I saw the stock prices of some of the search engine companies that I thought, why not?"

Ryan, who describes himself as "not a very computery person", came up with the idea when working on his PhD in ecological economics, looking at learning systems and economic growth theory.

His ideas were expanded and refined by the other co-founders Shaun Ryan, Wayne Munro, and Craig Ryan who have backgrounds in artificial intelligence and computer systems research.

Upon starting GlobalBrain.net, Ryan went to the US and got patents for the technology. Venture-capital facilitator Phil Norman, of Auckland-based Foresight Partners, introduced Ryan to San Francisco "venture catalyst" company Double Impact.

Randy Boyer of Double Impact says when he heard that the son of an Invercargill chicken farmer was sitting in his waiting room he had to see him.

Ryan, remembers the meeting with more trepidation. "We sat at his table and there were four others on either side of him. They had their arms crossed and had a look of 'Hurry up, we don't expect much of this', but once I hit them with it they all leaned forward as if to say 'Hmm, this could be interesting'."

Ryan says what appealed to the company was that the technology is simple, its effective in the way it improves search results and it has a vast range of features. The technology improves the relevance of search results by learning user preferences and prioritising search results accordingly.

Double Impact suggested GlobalBrain.net develop the product further and also came up with the idea of partnering with a US search engine/portal company.

"They helped us choose which companies were best and negotiated the deal. A common thread with the companies we talked to was that they wanted to deal with a US entity so they didn't have to think about New Zealand law or anything else. So we set up as a US company and transferred our intellectual property to the US entity, but we're based in Christchurch."

GlobalBrain.net has 10 staff, five of whom have PhDs in different engineering disciplines, and there are also three Snap.com technicians working in Christchurch. GlobalBrain is also looking for more staff.

Snap.com is using GlobalBrain technology and engineering resources as a key building block for the development and launch of targeted Internet portal services. These will service a variety of affinity groups, demographic sets, geographical regions and key Snap.com partner editions. As such, GlobalBrain's new intelligent popularity filtering technology will be combined with Snap.com's proprietary SnapLENS edition management technology for a host of targeted electronic commerce opportunities.

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