Local Business Data Provider Locu Raises Seed Round

Locu, a data-focused startup founded by MIT graduates and computer science researchers, is closing a seed round of over $600,000 from East and West coast investors, including Factual founder Gil Elbaz, Google’s Bruno Bowden, Cloudera founder Jeff Hammerbacher, Hubspot’s Dharmesh Shah, Twitter VP of Engineering Michael Abbott, Facebook co-founder Andrew McCollum, MIT’s Ed Roberts, Jean Hammond, Matt Ocko and Mitch Roberts. Early stage investment fund Quotidian Ventures is also involved.

Locu plans to create the world’s largest real-time, structured repository of small business offerings data, such as restaurant menus, with the goal of helping better local search.

The seed round was for $623,000, to be exact. 60% came from East Coast investors (Boston, New York) with 40% from West Coast investors (San Francisco, Los Angeles). There were also a couple of other Boston-area investors involved and one other early stage fund, who did not want their name disclosed.

The startup’s founding team includes Rene Reinsberg, Marek Olszewski, Stelios Sidiroglou-Douskos and Marc Piette, and is advised by Fresh Pond Partners and Sep Kamvar, Professor of Computational and Mathematical Engineering at Stanford. The founders’ backgrounds include an impressive array of experience with Google, Cisco, IBM, Bloomberg, VMWare, Microsoft, Sun, McKinsey and Morgan Stanley.

The founding members originally came together at MIT, where they won last year’s MIT Linked Data Ventures competition, supervised by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Since then, Locu has grown its engineering team, but is still actively looking to hire more people over the next few months.

The first product from Locu is the soon-to-launch MenuPlatform.com, which is designed to be a simple way for restaurant owners to keep their menu system up-to-date. The platform will include features like automatic import from any file format, integration with Facebook and other sites across the Web, a mobile application for on-the-fly, real-time editing, and, most importantly, fast and easy updating.

According to the company homepage, restaurant owners will be able to get their menu online in less than 5 minutes, with no need to call a webmaster.

Besides being an easy-to-use platform for restaurant owners, the data within MenuPlatform is semantically-annotated (i.e., structured), too.

The end result of applying a more structured taxonomy to this sort of real-world content could then lead to improvements in local search. For example, instead of simply searching for a nearby sushi restaurant, as you would today, you could search for a sushi restaurant offering a “rainbow roll” for less than $6.00. That, of course, is just a basic example of what Locu’s technology could provide in the future.

In addition to search, developers will also be able to build rich apps around this structured local data using Locu’s APIs (application programming interfaces).

Using a combination of document analysis, machine learning and online human computation workflows, Locu’s focus going forward is building efficient technologies that digitize real-world content, it says. Menus are only the beginning.