World Economic Forum Selects CMU BrainHub Startup as Technology Pioneer-CMU News - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

World Economic Forum Selects CMU BrainHub Startup as Technology Pioneer

By Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 / shilo@cmu.edu

Neon
Neon’s proprietary technology uses cognitive science, neuroscience and machine learning tools to understand how humans see and react to images, and selects images that emotionally resonate with viewers.

The World Economic Forum has selected Carnegie Mellon University startup Neon as one of its 2015 Technology Pioneers.

Neon is among 49 innovative global companies involved in the design, development and deployment of new and proven technologies that the WEF predicts will have a significant impact on business and society. Neon uses models derived from cognitive neuroscience research to increase viewer engagement with online images and videos.

“Neon is part of a group of entrepreneurs who are more aware of the crucial challenges of the world around them, and who are determined to do their part to solve those challenges with their company,” said Fulvia Montresor, head of the Technology Pioneers program at the WEF.

Neon was founded in 2012 to provide businesses with a way to automate image selection at scale. Neon’s proprietary technology, developed in research labs at CMU and Brown University, uses cognitive science, neuroscience and machine learning tools to understand how humans see and react to images, and selects images that emotionally resonate with viewers. Neon’s products provide real-time optimization tools for images and video, proven to increase engagement through clicks by 16 to 34 percent.

Carnegie Mellon, the birthplace of artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology, has been a leader in the study of brain and behavior for more than 50 years. Through its BrainHubSM initiative, CMU is drawing on its strengths in biology, computer science, psychology, statistics and engineering to answer critical brain science questions and create new technologies.

Tarr and Lebrecht
Neon co-founders Sophie Lebrecht and Michael Tarr

Michael J. Tarr, Neon co-founder and head of the Psychology Department in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, believes Neon is perfect example of how BrainHub is well positioned to transition basic research findings into needed solutions.

“Companies with a solid science and technical foundation like Neon are poised to make a large-scale and lasting commercial impact. It is rewarding to see Neon’s innovation and potential for global change recognized by the World Economic Forum,” Tarr said.

Based on the research discovery that the human visual system automatically and unconsciously guides decision-making through valence perception, Neon participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) to transfer its science to applications in online visual content markets. Neon has since secured significant venture capital funding and is currently working with global clients to increase user engagement.

“As an early and continuing supporter of Neon, I am proud to see their groundbreaking technology recognized on a global level,” said Bill Ericson, general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures and a Neon investor and board member. “Neon makes it possible for businesses to bring intelligent automation to their visual content at scale. The deep science, technology, and experience they bring to this problem truly sets them apart.”

“Companies with a solid science and technical foundation like Neon are poised to make a large-scale and lasting commercial impact.” — Michael Tarr

Neon joins the group of seven companies in Ericson’s portfolio that have received this honor since the award was established in 2000.

As part of the forum’s Technology Pioneers program, Neon CEO and co-founder Sophie Lebrecht, who received her postdoctoral training at CMU, will meet with technology, business and NGO leaders at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China, in September. The meeting is on innovation, technology and science.

Tarr, Lebrecht and Desnoyer
Neon VP of engineering Mark Desnoyer (center) is a Ph.D. student in CMU's Robotics Institute. He's flanked by co-founders Sophie Lebrecht and Michael Tarr.

“It is an incredible honor for Neon to be selected by the World Economic Forum for this prestigious award,” said Lebrecht, Neon’s CEO. “Intelligent image management is a crucial need for global businesses, and we are pleased that our unique approach to automating image selection is gaining recognition.”

The 2015 Technology Pioneers were selected from among hundreds of applicants by a selection committee of 68 academics, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and corporate executives. The committee based its decisions on criteria including innovation, potential impact, working prototype, viability and leadership.

Past participants in the program include AirBnB (2014), Nest (2014), Dropbox (2011), Twitter (2010) and Google (2001).

Neon has another CMU connection: Mark Desnoyer, a Ph.D. student in the School of Computer Science’s Robotics Institute, is the company’s vice president of engineering.