Robbie Allen, founder and CEO of Durham’s Automated Insights, is going back to school – again. And he just may hatch another startup idea as he pursues a Ph.D at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler.
“I’m happy to announce that I’ve been accepted into the UNC Computer Science Ph.D program where I will be focusing on the latest research in artificial intelligence,” Allen disclosed in a LinkedIn post.
“I’m thrilled with the prospect of going back to school and becoming a student again.”
Going back to school is not new for Allen, who quit a job at Cisco for a stint at MIT where he earned not one by two advanced degrees. In 2007, he started a sports statistic focused venture while working at Cisco. StatSheet evolved into Automated Insights, which is a leader in artificial intelligence-generated news content, writing and other technology that turns data into narratives.
“Ten years is a pretty good run at a startup,” he explained. “I sure learned a lot and made a lot of friends along the way. Now I’m off to my next journey. Who knows, if I continue to be opportunistic I may just find my next startup idea by the time I’m done with the Ph.D.”
Allen told the company, which he sold two years ago but stayed in the CEO role, last week about his “CEO to Student” plans.
He’ll stay involved with the company, however, as executive chairman.
“Five years ago, I never would have predicted that I’d enter a Ph.D program after Automated Insights. However, the AI space has exploded over the last few years,” he explained.
“Unlike other disciplines within Computer Science, universities are right on par with major tech companies (Google, FB, Baidu, etc.) in terms of doing cutting edge research in AI. In fact, we are in a mini-bubble with companies scooping up CS Ph.D students as fast as they can find them.”
Replacing him as CEO is veteran Atlanta business executive Marc Zionts, whom Allen says he had talked about becoming AI’s chief operating officer.
“I’ve decided to step back from the CEO role after founding and leading the company for 10 years. Replacing me is a successful CEO that’s grown a variety of technology companies in the past. I’m taking on the role of Executive Chairman and will continue to be involved with company strategy and advising the new CEO,” Allen wrote at LinkedIn.
He noted that a return to school is a “back to the future” moment.
“This will make the second time I’ve taken a break in my career to go back to school. In 2004, after working at Cisco for several years, I attended MIT where I got two Masters degrees. Back then, I wanted to learn all I could about starting and running a company, and it was a great experience,” Allen wrote.
“Now, I look forward to pulling out the pocket protector and digging in with Machine Learning, NLP/NLG, and robotics. It will be quite a departure from startup life, but I have a tendency to do something new just when my job gets really good.”
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