The second part of this series takes us to Rotterdam, main port of Europe and the residence of Veneficus, a 10-year young and ambitious boutique analytics firm. They have already scored accolades in the Dutch FD Gazellen Award for fast growing companies. In addition, they also won a ‘Best Employer’ award in 2016. I visited partner and co-founder Joost van der Zon, and data scientist Lisanne den Hoed.
Veneficus holds office right in the centre of Rotterdam at the beautiful Veerhaven where they occupy the third floor of a classic office building. The company was founded in May 2007 by four young Erasmus University Econometrics students in their bachelor years, and Veneficus still keeps strong ties with their Alma Mater.
Focus of the company is not surprisingly on quantitative analysis and the support of factual decision making, for which they apply a wide range of technology, including R, Python and SAS. Technology, however, is always an enabler and never a goal in itself. This means Veneficus never loses sight of the end goal, which is providing innovative solutions to business challenges. Currently the company employs around 35 people in total, of which usually some 20% are students. As a small firm, Veneficus focusses on a few sectors to offer the best solutions for their customers: retail first, followed by insurance and government.
The organically grown retail specialty has turned out to be a very fortunate choice, as illustrated by the many references in this sector. That’s not all though: being so close to the port of Rotterdam it’s no surprise that there’s a natural interest in the maritime industry as well. This eventually resulted in a spin off company called ShipX which develops and markets planning algorithms for nautical purposes, like vessel planning and physical cargo intelligence.
Although being a small and relatively young company, Joost and Lisanne mention many big names when asked about their reference projects. For a large international food delivery service, Veneficus built a forecasting engine which is used for making automated marketing decisions. Holland Casino has been using a custom-built scenario analysis tool for the last three years that was used to pinpoint the best location for the new casino in Amsterdam. For the discount retailer Big Bazar they developed a customer behavior analysis solution.
A recurring theme when talking to companies like this seems to be finding and recruiting the right people; although Veneficus has little difficulties finding working students, trainees and graduates, they too mention the struggle in attracting experienced hires as their number one challenge. And, just like GoDataDriven, they mention the challenge of helping customers to really adopt a data driven way of working, instead of just using an implemented solution.
The future of AI & Machine Learning
According to Joost, AI is promising to be a world changing enabler for value creation and becoming more prescriptive. He has a very down to earth approach to this for himself and his customers: “Let’s first try to apply this in practice and see where the real benefits are: AI is not a goal in itself”
With a strong focus, broad skill set and close ties to the academic world, Veneficus seems to have the right fundamentals in place to reach their 2020 ambition of doubling in both revenue and headcount. In fact, this ambition seems almost modest in my opinion. I would definitely have a chat if you’re in one of their focus markets and are looking for an innovative fact-based solution.
About the Dutch Data Science series The Dutch data science community has demonstrated outstanding creativity in application of analytics tools and techniques to solve problems and create new opportunities. As a consultant at SAS, I am in the privileged position of meeting some of the brightest stars in this community. This stars series is a review of noteworthy data science initiatives by organizations, remarkable business models by data science startups and interviews with individuals who make outstanding contribution to the community’s overall achievements.