Accel Partners is announcing a major talent win tonight, with the addition of former Bitly chief scientist Hilary Mason as its first data scientist in residence.
The role of the data scientist in the VC world was first pioneered by IA Ventures and Greylock Partners. IA Ventures brought on Drew Conway as an in-house data scientist, and Greylock brought on DJ Patil, a former data scientist for both LinkedIn and eBay, to its firm’s roster of talent. Since then, employing data scientists to help portfolio startups and a firm’s own internal data mining efforts has become a more common phenomenon.
But according to partner Ping Li, this role was purely made for Mason. In fact, he says that they would likely not have brought on a data scientist had it not been for Mason possibly joining the firm.
For background, Mason was Bitly’s chief scientist since 2009 and specializes in building systems that help analyze data and extract insights from the social web in real time. as you may know Bitly is a link shortening and sharing platform developed by Betaworks that has raised nearly $30 million in funding.
A New York city resident, Mason has also been an active member of Mayor Bloomberg’s Technology and Innovation Advisory Council since 2011. Additionally, she serves as an advisor to several NY startups including knod.es, collective[i], MortarData as well as DataKind, a nonprofit that brings together leading data scientists with high-impact social organizations. She has served as a mentor to Betaspring, the Providence Rhode Island-based startup accelerator, and TechStars New York.
In 2010, Mason co-founded HackNY, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a path for talented students to join New York’s creative technical community through events, education, and fellowships. Prior to that she designed statistical models of careers from a resume dataset, for Path101, Inc.
She tells us she will remain in New York and become “scientist emeritus” of Bitly, taking on an advisory role to the Betaworks company. In fact, she’s co-hosting a New York-based conference called DataGotham in September to bring the region’s data science community together for a day of learning about how experts on the leading edge of data science are practicing their craft.
Similar to Patil’s role at Greylock, Mason’s position will be a hybridization between the entrepreneur in residence job and the executive in residence roles where experts help portfolio companies. She could join or start her own company if she wants, but she will also be focused on helping portfolio companies leverage data into new products and services.
Accel’s data-focused investments include Cloudera, Couchbase, Lookout, Nimble Storage, Opower, Prismatic, QlikView, RelateIQ, Sumo Logic, and Trifacta.
In terms of what she will be working on, she says, “We’re just at the beginning of what we can do with data. Over the last few years we’ve seen the growth in our ability to store and the infrastructure to analyze data. This gave us the bare capabilities that we have now — essentially, counting things, cleverly, across large data sets. We’re still figuring out what to do with this…I believe the most exciting
opportunities in data products are in giving people insight that they would otherwise never have. Building new capabilities on data has broad applicability.”
Li explains that Accel has made a big bet on investing in ideas around processing large data sets, most recently raising its second $100 million Big Data fund. Mason was such an exceptional and helpful advisor to the first and second big data funds, so the firm might as well formalize her role, he says jokingly.
“Data science is not just a science, it’s an application,” he told TechCrunch in an interview. “Hilary understands how to take big-data technologies and apply these to solve real business problems.”