The 2016 winner of the award for the most innovative business in the Western Cape is a company started in 2013 by Dr McElory Hoffmann, a Stellenbosch University (SU) alumnus with a PhD in applied mathematics.
Dr Hoffmann, co-founder and chief executive officer of Praelexis, was one of 33 top business people honoured by the Western Cape Government during a gala event at Century City recently. Praelexis won the "most innovative business" category in the Premier's Entrepreneurship Recognition Awards (PERA) for 2016.
Praelexis uses machine learning techniques to find hidden patterns and associations in big data sets, enabling their clients to become data-driven organisations. So far, the company has done work for the education sector and for the banking, insurance and mining industries.
"Data is like gold ore," Dr Hoffmann explains. "Similar to mining, we have to extrapolate the gold from the ore before we can do something with it. At Praelexis we use machine learning techniques to make sense of big data and add commercial and strategic value to it."
Based in Technopark outside Stellenbosch, the company currently employs a group of 12 data scientists: nine with MSc degrees and three with PhD degrees.
"When I employ someone, I'm looking for a graduate with at least an MSc and with experience in the fields of engineering, applied mathematics and computer science," he says.
In order to make sure that there is a pool of highly-skilled graduates always in the pipeline, he remains closely involved with the Department of Mathematical Sciences at SU, where he obtained his PhD in applied mathematics in 2007.
"Machine learning is a fast-moving field and there is no time for sitting back. I've travelled to the USA three times this year to keep abreast with the latest developments. Our expertise is currently up there with the best in the world.
"Through Praelexis, we are keeping our highly-skilled graduates at home to work on Africa-specific problems," he concludes excitedly.