Editor’s note: “It’s pretty surreal,” says Robbie Allen, who started work on AI-predecessor StatSheet in 2007 while an employee at Cisco and sold the now-named Automated Insights in a deal announced Thursday., an exit that is a boost to the entire Triangle startup community. ExitEvent Editor Laura Baverman goes inside the deal.

DURHAM, N.C. – Sometimes, a deal is just too good to pass up.

The Durham startup with “robot” computers that turn millions of pieces of data each day into stories for the Associated Press and Yahoo! has agreed to be acquired by a top-performing national private equity firm and merged with its portfolio company STATS, the world’s largest provider of sports data. 

It’s a deal Automated Insights (AI) founder and CEO Robbie Allen never would have predicted when the company closed a $5.5 million series B round just seven months ago, but one so ideal that he couldn’t say no.

Austin-based Vista Equity Partners promises Allen capital and resources to grow even faster than planned, access to additional industries to test and implement his products, the ability to grow the business and team in its hometown of Durham, and all at a valuation pleasing to everyone in the deal. 

“It’s pretty surreal,” says Allen, who started work on AI-predecessor StatSheet in 2007 while an employee at Cisco. “This isn’t something I expected to do at this point—we just raised money and things were going really well. But it was just the right mix of opportunity—and everything.”

For the Triangle, the sale of a company at so early a stage, but in a deal investor Lister Delgado says makes “every single investor happy” suggests our region has the talent and wherewithal to start and scale software companies in emerging new fields like artificial intelligence and machine learning. (The company says it’s the first exit in the natural language generation space.)

“You need exits to demonstrate to investors it’s worth spending their time here,” says Delgado of Idea Fund Partners. The sale marks Idea Fund’s second to Vista—last year, the firm acquired Social Solutions, a Baltimore company that Idea Fund funded initially in 2008.

“We’re making sure we stay good friends with them,” Delgado says. “If they want to keep buying our companies, we don’t mind.”
How the deal happened and why it makes sense

The Vista connection was not made by Idea Fund, nor by AP, which along with partner FOX Sports sold STATS to Vista last year. According to Allen, Vista and STATS contacted him last fall to discuss what more they could do with sports data, and that collected by Vista’s other 26 portfolio companies, most of which revolve around data. STATS has been aggressively acquiring companies, only yesterday announcing the purchase of sports data and information source, The Sports Network. 

(For the full story, read at: http://exitevent.com/article/automated-insights-acquired-150212