Seeing a pattern

Quantum Leap Innovations

Quantum Leap founder Joseph Elad shows some of his technical innovations. The company looks for patterns in human behavior (as well as the movement of pathogens, etc.).

Joseph Budner Elad has sought patterns in roadside bombings in war, and the path of deadly pathogens.

Now, Elad, president and CEO of Quantum Leap Innovations of Newark, has begun putting his company’s pattern-seeking technology to more everyday use for business.

For instance, the software can examine whether patients who get readmitted to a hospital share certain traits, or which other products a bank customer might be likely to buy.

Elad, originally of Israel, uses technology he calls “pattern-based analytics.”

“We’re just scratching the surface of what can be done,” he said.

Predictive analytics, also known as data mining, is widespread in the field of business intelligence. But Elad has managed to find a new twist, said Tom Davenport, professor of information technology and management at Babson College in Massachusetts.

Most analytics use regression, a statistical technique that’s been around for a century, which helps explain the relationship between variables, he said.

What Elad is doing is pattern matching, which is more complicated and relies on artificial intelligence, Davenport said. By establishing that something has taken place in the past, it predicts what will happen in the future, he said.

“We’re drowning in information. That’s why Google is so successful,” said Michael Cusumano, SMR Distinguished Professor of Management and Engineering Systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a new member of Quantum Leap’s board.

Quantum Leap’s interface is similar to Google’s, which allows the customer to ask simple questions and draw upon large amounts of data for the answers, Cusumano said.

Whereas Google’s search tool harvests the Internet with “brute force,” Quantum Leap’s products allow for a more exacting search of private databases, he said.

Elad came to the United States in 1980 to attend the University of Delaware, where he studied chemical engineering and computer science.

It was there he met his future wife, Faith, which he said is what kept him in this area.

As he pursued his doctorate, he was offered the chance to run a startup database management company after the previous owner died in a car accident.

Several startups later, he founded Quantum Leap in 1999. Today, the company employs 15 and has multiple contractors, all in the United States, he said.

Quantum Leap’s chief science officer is Ganesh Vaidyanathan, who used to work at DuPont doing pharmaceutical analytics. Cusumano called him a “world expert” in data mining.

The company has performed $32.5 million in contract work for the Department of Defense, mainly the Navy, Elad said.

Quantum Leap’s first contract was an Air Force effort to recast the B-52 bomber away from its nuclear origins, and to form computer models about where to station them in the world, he said.

That, he said, helped during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, as the bombers were already in the right places, he said.

About four years ago, Quantum worked with the Defense Department to examine roadside bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, to determine whether the patterns demonstrated in past attacks could help predict new ones.

And his company assisted the military in modeling the H5N1 “bird flu” and H1N1 “swine flu” outbreaks, helping the government decide not to close the Mexican border and domestic airports for the latter outbreak.

Such work has been rewarding, but going outside of government contract work could bring less volatility, he said.

“It’s very difficult to predict what will happen with the government,” Elad said.

Today, Quantum Leap is working with Christiana Care on identifying patients with a high risk for cancer, and Thomas Jefferson University on how genes impact disease.

Jim Mazarakis, executive vice president at WSFS Bank, said his company uses Quantum Leap’s pattern recognition technology for determining which customers would be good candidates for more of its core banking products.

WSFS has also been using Quantum Leap Buzz, an analytical search engine to follow what WSFS customers are saying, as well as comments about competitors.

The online tool searches for Twitter postings and groups them into those referencing sub-topics.

This, Mazarakis said, gave WSFS insight into the consumer backlash against new debit card fees at other banks, before the story hit the mainstream press.

It’s a faster, and purer, way of getting to know what the public is thinking than using a focus group, he said. The tool is free until — wait for it — leap day, Feb. 29, 2012, after which the company will offer it as a subscription service.

Elad’s “leading edge” technology has a lot of potential in the marketplace, but the challenge is being able to explain it to prospective customers, Davenport said.

They may not understand the guts of the complicated technology, and may have to take it on faith that it works, he said.

But this approach will become more prominent as the years go by, he said.

“The future’s pretty bright for this company,” Davenport said.