News Article

Bloomington firm's story-writing software finds an audience
Date: Apr 24, 2020
Author: Anthony Schoettle
Source: Indianapolis Business Journal ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: Fantasy Journalist Inc of Bloomington, IN

Steve Wasick isn't trying to put writers and reporters out of business.

But he says his artificial intelligence-driven story-writing service has a place. And from all accounts that place is growing.

Steve Wasick
Infosentience, which was founded in 2012, counts CBS Sports, IU Health and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange among its growing list of clients—which are charged a flat annual fee based on the complexity of the stories desired.

Since its founding, the lightly staffed company has generated more than 120 million software-written articles ranging from biographies and commodity reports to accounts of fantasy and real sports games and events.

For CBS Sports, Infosentience writes stories covering college and professional football and basketball and European soccer as well as the fantasy sports scene. For MaxPreps it covers high school sports. During the height of football season, Infosentience's software can crank out an astonishing 1.5 million stories per week.

The software "understands what's interesting about a data set and conveys it using language and data visualization," Wasick said.

The program can not only generate stories from data sets, it also produces graphics— a capability Wasick and his team have developed over the last year using funding from the U.S. Navy, which sought data visualization from data sets.

Many of the stories Infosentience produces are in the 300- to 500-word range. And while Infosentience may not be able to produce complicated profiles or in-depth analytical stories, Wasick said his firm's AI-derived stories go much deeper than just regurgitating data.

"If you read the articles, you would never know they were written by a robot," Wasick told IBJ.

Infosentience has many opportunities to expand, Wasick said. "Our technology would allow us to pivot quickly to write different types of stories. Any structured data set a human can look at, our system can do the same thing. But it can do it much faster."

"There's a lot of potential in finance," he said. "There's a lot of data, and people want it synthesized."

Wasick, 40, started the company out of his house while attending law school in Chicago. He's an avid fantasy sports player and sought a way to keep abreast of the happenings within the fantasy leagues in which he played.

"I thought, ‘Wouldn't it be nice to have articles for fantasy sports,'" he recalled. "I wanted to know about not just results from other games but things like coaching decisions and playoff records."

So the Long Beach, California-native began developing a program to produce stories using the league's statistics. Despite having a limited coding or technology background, Wasick—who graduated from the University of Hawaii with an English major and later earned a law degree from Northwestern University—wrote the program that Infosentience is built on.

"I took computer programming in high school and built on that," he said. "I'm mostly self-taught."

Pretty quickly he realized the software could be a business. "This isn't meant to replace human journalists," he emphasized. "It's just doing what there isn't manpower to do."

So he did what any green—and brave—entrepreneur would do. He made cold calls.

In 2013, Wasick said he got "totally lucky."

He picked up the phone and called CBS Sports. And the guy on the other end of the phone agreed to a meeting.

"I knew no one at CBS Sports. It was somewhat shocking I got the meeting. They were building apps for fantasy sports leagues and wanted to incorporate my [software] into CBS' system," he said.

That relationship expanded in 2016, when Infosentience started producing stories for real sporting events at the college and professional level.

Wasick's four-employee company recently forged relationship with Indiana University Health to do physician biographies and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to do daily soybean and corn commodities reports.

The relationship with IU Health was signed last fall and is still in the pilot phase. Infosentience began producing stories for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange earlier this month.

The year it was founded, Infosentience raised $250,000 in capital from friends and family, and it hasn't raised a penny since. Infosentience is growing at a double-digit percentage clip and is profitable, Wasick said, and he has no plans to raise more capital.

"We're not going to raise money for the sake of raising money. We currently have everything we need in place to grow," Wasick said.

Wasick moved to Bloomington in 2014 when his then wife—a professor—took a job at Indiana University. He's grown his company out of The Dimension Mill, a Bloomington co-working space and incubator. He said he has no intention of moving.

"I lived in a small town in Idaho for five years, and Bloomington has a similar feel. I really like it," he said.

But more importantly, he added, "moving into The Dimension Mill has opened up so many doors for us. There are so many resources here. It's been great."

Wasick met Cy Megnin, entrepreneur-in-residence for Elevate Ventures, at The Dimension Mill.

"When we give tours at The Mill, Infosentience is one of the first companies there we highlight," Megnin said. "There are a lot of really good companies at The Mill, but [Infosentience] is special.

"It's the quintessential Midwest company," he added. "They've got their heads down working and are very humble and unassuming. But when you find out what they're capable of, you say, ‘Wait, no way.' When you tell people what they do, it sounds like science fiction. But it's not."

Megnin said Wasick's software could be used in a number of industries. And he said there aren't many companies doing what Infosentience does.

"Taking structured data and turning it into a story is difficult enough, but they're adding nuance," Megnin said. "They've developed a program using artificial intelligent that gets better and better, and in the end, the writing appears to have been created by a person.

"Anything with structured data or statistics can be applied," Megnin added. "The capabilities of this company's [software] are endless."