New vision as Speechmatics moves into Science Park site
Speechmatics moved into its new global HQ this month – a stand-alone building at 296 Cambridge Science Park.
“It’s 15,500 square feet,” said John Milliken, CEO of the automatic speech recognition company following its move from King’s Hedges, where it occupied 7,800 sq ft.
The company’s phenomenal growth to date has seen its workforce double in the past 12 months, open offices in Brno in the Czech Republic, Chennai in India and Denver in the US – as well as securing additional investment from AlbionVC and IQ Capital during a Series A funding round last October.
“There’s 100 people in the company in total,” says John after I’ve been given a tour of the new site by programme manager Lavender Munikah, who says the new base is “absolutely phenomenal”.
Of the 100, 80 are based on the Science Park, 12 in Chennai and five in Brno.
“Brno is a machine learning and speech recognition recognition centre,” John says. “The university there has these specialists so we expanded there to get that talent, and Chennai is also an engineering centre, though with different skills.
“Of the 80 based here around 50 are engineers, ten in product development, and 20 in sales and marketing, plus finance and services. Deep technology is what we do, and we have 100 research papers published among the team, and 14 PhDs at the last count.”
Speechmatics was originally named Cantab Research Ltd when founded in 2006 by speech recognition specialist Dr Tony Robinson, who remains a guiding light on the board and among the company’s research groups. The speech-to-text specialist, then led by Benedikt von Thüngen, became Speechmatics in 2009.
“We will recognise any English accent, and can build languages on demand,” John adds. “We’ve built 31 languages so far, but if you ask us it will take three or four weeks. We’ve done that recently with Japanese and Korean. We shipped the Korean version in four weeks without a Korean speaker looking at it – it’s all done with algorithms, maths and machine learning. The ability to learn languages was what won us the Queen’s Award for Enterprise last year.”
Speechmatics’ service is generally paid for monthly.
“The costs are by hour transcribed or variations thereof,”says John. “It’s a counter running and we look at it on a monthly basis.”
Some client use the service running on the cloud, some introduce it into their own servers.
“We can deploy the technology from the public cloud which we host or in a Amazon or Microsoft private cloud setting.
“Around 70 per cent by number use our public cloud, but 70 per cent of our revenue comes from customer-hosted deployments, which is usually because they have a requirement to hold their own data - perhaps because of GCPR or ban data regulations, they’re not allowed to shift content or data into the public cloud.”
Having comprehensively mastered audio-to-audio, “the team wants to push boundaries and they want to link audio and video”, though any commercial release is two years away.
“The next stage is linking video to audio. Only 20 per of meaning comes from the words you say - 80 per cent is context, gesticulation, eye contact and so on, and those additional facets are only available if you go to video - which also includes lip-reading. We pick up a surprising amount of meaning from that, so video conveys deeper meaning and understanding.”
In a recent CEO blog on the Speechmatics website, John outlined that further progress depends on the commercial environment Speechmatics operates in.
“You’ve got to be aware of the macro-economic environment even as a relatively small business in Cambridge,” he says. “We’re a deep technology business and we’ve got to be conscious of what’s happening between the US and China, and what’s happening with Europe. Our own government is both drawing close and pushing away on both Huawei and 5G, so do we expand to the US or do we look east to a future with China – although development in the US could preclude development in China?
“It’s all very well Boris saying we’ll be a bastion of free trade but everyone else is putting up trading barriers. There is complexity in the trading positions of ost countries. We don’t live in a world with free trade and we seem to be moving further away from it. It’s a phase thing, we’re living in an era of nationalist politics.”
John, who’s just celebrated his first year as CEO, is sanguine about the other big challenge facing Cambridge – hiring the best talent.
“What educational route would I recommend? The requirements are very broad-based for a technology business. We need Go and Python engineers now, but that’ll change: 20 years ago the main coding language was C++, so it’s about keeping up with the changes – though people are talking about ‘codeless programming’ now, and I’m not sure about that.
“We need talent in our finance and sales and marketing teams as well. It’s about having a broad base of understanding and developing a career in work and outside of work. We invest a lot in the workforce – we only grow if people learn and grow within the organisation.”