Every successful organization has at least one key person who is so indispensable that cloning seems the only answer.
When Anna Griffith and her husband, Dr. Todd Griffith, started Discovery Machine Inc., it was with the goal of providing methodology and supporting technology to capture the “know-how” of pivotal people in an organization and deploy it into training programs, job aids and enterprise systems.
Over the years they have developed patented software tools for this purpose, and they have done work for the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Their methods can be applied to the private sector to protect and pass on a company’s business intelligence, including undocumented process details, client and supplier idiosyncracies, product tricks of the trade and much more.
What was the inspiration behind Discovery Machine?
My husband and I founded the company together. He was getting his Ph.D. at Georgetown University, and he focused on how to represent in software the creative process of humans, the cognitive creative process. While he was doing that, I was doing DARPA projects with a small company, focused on how you get experts to do the introspection and articulation of their expertise.
I got a computer science degree from Allegheny College, and a master’s degree in computer science from Georgia Tech. When my husband completed his Ph.D., we came up with the idea of combining our two areas of expertise in order to enable companies and people to do the introspection and articulation of their own expertise, so that it could be done on a larger scale. We had experienced a lot of AI (artificial intelligence) researchers, and the very complex tools that they used for AI, and we wanted to take all of that research and make it more usable.
What were some of the challenges you faced in starting the company?
I think the biggest challenge we faced was people being willing to go out of the standard way of doing business and trying new approaches—thinking outside the box and taking that challenge and that risk of taking advantage of technology and new ways of doing things.
When you started the company in 1999, you were just doing research. How did you start getting clients?
By networking, going to conferences—the same way everybody does it. Really, you have to find somebody who’s willing to take a risk and try something new, and then prove you can do it.
Our biggest client is the U.S. Navy. That came about as the result of a process of years of talking to people and proving our technology, doing a little bit and then a little bit more and finally proving it.
How has your company grown?
We have international customers; we do predominately Department of Defense work in the U.S. and internationally. We are in the process of trying to transition our technology to the commercial sector as well. Projects like IBM’s Watson are making people more aware of what our type of technology is capable of doing, and how it has helped their competition. That has opened the door for us commercially as well.
What resources did you take advantage of in getting the company off the ground?
The Northeastern Pennsylvania Ben Franklin Technology Partners have been a great resource in helping us do various projects and get them to market.
We took advantage of the Keystone Innovation Zone (tax credit program). We have also had IMC projects (Innovative Manufacturers’ Center, an Industrial Resource Center supported through the Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development). IMC has offered internship programs, and we work with schools (to get interns).
We have participated in (the National Science Foundation’s) SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) programs . . . which have been instrumental in our growth.
What are some advantages of your location?
Most of the advantages are personal. Our family is here; we like living here; we like raising our children here. . . We are in the old City Hall building, which is on the National Historic Registry. It’s a great space, and actually my husband is from Williamsport, and his great, great, great grandfather was the mayor of Williamsport. So he actually sits in the office that his relative sat in.
What is the differentiator for Discovery Machine?
We develop AI systems that are based on your individual expertise. Many different companies and organizations develop expertise that is critical to their success. Any generic AI algorithm isn’t going to give them the solution that they need, to be able to capture their own expertise and distribute it within their organization, to maintain their own differentiation.
We designed our products to be usable by experts, not by software engineers. . . If you’re a smaller company, and you want to work with a company that can provide you with customized expertise that you need, at a cost that you need, then DMI can offer that.
What’s next for DMI?
We plan to continue our expansion into national and international markets, in serious gaming for military training, and to transition the success we have had with training into the commercial applications. Our next goal is to get our products widely used commercially, helping U.S. companies capture their expertise and use it to be more competitive and more profitable.
454 Pine Street Williamsport, PA 17701