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Nebula Data – the start-up bringing data to life before your eyes

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Nebula is a data visualisation company that aims to transform how we understand the media landscape by visualising how topics are discussed in the news media. The venture was borne out of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship as a collaboration between University of Auckland physicists.

Co-founder Georgia Nixon, who was studying Physics as a postgraduate student when Nebula was developed with the support of the Centre’s Velocity programme says “The idea for Nebula grew out of a Te Pūnaha Matatini research project for the BioHeritage National Science Challenge. They were interested in analysing the concept of “predator free” in New Zealand and wanted to devise a new method to explore the nature of this conversation in the media. For this project, we did a large-scale search of organisations and people who were influencing the “predator free” media landscape and built a network to reflect those who were central, those who were peripheral and how this was changing. After the success of this project, we were approached by a number of other organisations looking for a similar analysis.”

Georgia’s partners are fellow University of Auckland students and graduates Toby Bi and Nickolas Morton as well as their supervisor Professor Shaun Hendy, Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, who continues to be involved with Nebula as a co-founder and advisor.

Being involved in the Velocity programme in 2018 gave the team the practical business skills they needed to turn their idea into a viable venture. It provided opportunities for mentorship and introductions for support from other organisations such as ATEED and the Icehouse. Georgia says “Velocity really sparked my interest in entrepreneurship and helped me imagine what our venture could look like. I think that often scientists aren’t in academia because they are avoiding the commercial world, but because academia offers them the freedom to research what they love. Also, a scientists’ career pathway in academia has been largely determined by the number of publications they’re able to produce. Commercialisation has, therefore not been given equal spotlight. Recently, there has been an encouraging rise in getting scientists to not only come up with the research ideas but to also guide it through to an end product. It’s great to be part of this process and see your work contributing to a bigger solution by having a positive application. Rather than treating the science as independent to commercialisation, entrepreneurship combines the two and we have been fortunate to find that middle ground with Nebula.”

Since being involved in the Velocity programme, the team have completed seven major projects spanning a number of industries but all rooted in network visualisations of data, natural language processing text analysis or surveys. The questions they have answered have included: How has the discussion around global warming changed in New Zealand over time; what biases in language are used in the media when discussing nutrition vs. agriculture; and who the main influencers are in New Zealand’s political media landscape.

Nebula Data’s analytical techniques have a huge number of potential applications, in particular deciphering the impact of specific actions such as product market launches in the private sector and new policy initiatives in the public sector. The type of analysis in critically important for any organisation interested in ways to profile issues and influence behaviours. Their compelling value proposition includes being able to translate complex data sets into visuals that can be more readily understood by decision-makers in organisations.

Interest has increased rapidly since they have started and the founders have added two new data scientists to the company to help improve and build the product and take on new projects. This has been particularly essential as the core team continue to wear multiple hats. Georgia is currently pursuing a PhD in Physics at the University of Cambridge, Toby is currently at the University of Auckland as a postgraduate researcher in Physics, and Nickolas is working as a data scientist at Arkturus Business Research.

In the next year, Nebula plan to expand operations. Georgia says “We are starting to pick up clients that give us reoccurring work which gives us more consistency. We’re in no rush though; we would like to keep growing at a sustainable level and enjoy the journey”.

James Hutchinson
James Hutchinson

social media

Nebula is a data visualisation company that aims to transform how we understand the media landscape by visualising how topics are discussed in the news media. The venture was borne out of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship as a collaboration between University of Auckland physicists.

Co-founder Georgia Nixon, who was studying Physics as a postgraduate student when Nebula was developed with the support of the Centre’s Velocity programme says “The idea for Nebula grew out of a Te Pūnaha Matatini research project for the BioHeritage National Science Challenge. They were interested in analysing the concept of “predator free” in New Zealand and wanted to devise a new method to explore the nature of this conversation in the media. For this project, we did a large-scale search of organisations and people who were influencing the “predator free” media landscape and built a network to reflect those who were central, those who were peripheral and how this was changing. After the success of this project, we were approached by a number of other organisations looking for a similar analysis.”

Georgia’s partners are fellow University of Auckland students and graduates Toby Bi and Nickolas Morton as well as their supervisor Professor Shaun Hendy, Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, who continues to be involved with Nebula as a co-founder and advisor.

Being involved in the Velocity programme in 2018 gave the team the practical business skills they needed to turn their idea into a viable venture. It provided opportunities for mentorship and introductions for support from other organisations such as ATEED and the Icehouse. Georgia says “Velocity really sparked my interest in entrepreneurship and helped me imagine what our venture could look like. I think that often scientists aren’t in academia because they are avoiding the commercial world, but because academia offers them the freedom to research what they love. Also, a scientists’ career pathway in academia has been largely determined by the number of publications they’re able to produce. Commercialisation has, therefore not been given equal spotlight. Recently, there has been an encouraging rise in getting scientists to not only come up with the research ideas but to also guide it through to an end product. It’s great to be part of this process and see your work contributing to a bigger solution by having a positive application. Rather than treating the science as independent to commercialisation, entrepreneurship combines the two and we have been fortunate to find that middle ground with Nebula.”

Since being involved in the Velocity programme, the team have completed seven major projects spanning a number of industries but all rooted in network visualisations of data, natural language processing text analysis or surveys. The questions they have answered have included: How has the discussion around global warming changed in New Zealand over time; what biases in language are used in the media when discussing nutrition vs. agriculture; and who the main influencers are in New Zealand’s political media landscape.

Nebula Data’s analytical techniques have a huge number of potential applications, in particular deciphering the impact of specific actions such as product market launches in the private sector and new policy initiatives in the public sector. The type of analysis in critically important for any organisation interested in ways to profile issues and influence behaviours. Their compelling value proposition includes being able to translate complex data sets into visuals that can be more readily understood by decision-makers in organisations.

Interest has increased rapidly since they have started and the founders have added two new data scientists to the company to help improve and build the product and take on new projects. This has been particularly essential as the core team continue to wear multiple hats. Georgia is currently pursuing a PhD in Physics at the University of Cambridge, Toby is currently at the University of Auckland as a postgraduate researcher in Physics, and Nickolas is working as a data scientist at Arkturus Business Research.

In the next year, Nebula plan to expand operations. Georgia says “We are starting to pick up clients that give us reoccurring work which gives us more consistency. We’re in no rush though; we would like to keep growing at a sustainable level and enjoy the journey”.


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