Tableau acquires MIT AI spinoff Empirical Systems, opens new R&D center in Boston area


Tableau Software is headquartered in Seattle. (GeekWire File Photo)

Tableau Software has acquired Empirical Systems, an eight-person artificial intelligence startup based in Cambridge, Mass., planning to integrate Empirical’s technology into the Tableau platform and establish a new RD center in Cambridge as a result of the deal.

Empirical CEO and co-founder Richard Tibbetts. (Empirical Systems Photo)

Seattle-based Tableau, the publicly traded data visualization and business intelligence technology company, announced the acquisition Wednesday morning, without disclosing the acquisition price or other financial terms of the agreement. Empirical had raised $2.5 million in funding.

Empirical spun out of MIT’s Probabilistic Computing Project in 2016, focusing on what CEO Richard Tibbetts has called “small data” — “situations where normally you’d need a professional statistician to do the analysis, because the data is sparse, or expensive, or the domain is too complex.”

That plays right into Tableau’s strategy. The company says Empirical’s technology will give its customers AI-powered tools to better understand and analyze their data. Tableau competes with data visualization products from companies including nearby tech giants Microsoft and Amazon, which have large teams or entire divisions of artificial intelligence specialists at their disposal as they develop products.

“Automatic insight generation will enable people without specialized data science skills to easily spot trends in their data, identify areas for further exploration, test different assumptions, and simulate hypothetical situations,” said Francois Ajenstat, Tableau’s chief product officer, in a statement. “Empirical shares our vision of delivering deeper insights to more people through smart analytics, and we’re eager to bring their tremendously talented team to Tableau.”

Madeleine Thompson, Empirical co-founder and head of engineering. (Empirical Systems Photo)

MIT alums Tibbetts, Madeleine Thompson, and Vikash Mansinghka founded Empirical Systems in 2016. Tibbetts, the CEO, previously co-founded StreamBase, an event processing and real-time analytics company acquired by TIBCO Software in 2013. Thompson, Empirical’s head of engineering, worked previously as a software engineer at Google.

Led by former Amazon Web Services executive Adam Selipsky as CEO since 2016, Tableau has been rebounding as it shifts to a subscription software strategy. Tableau’s stock is up more than 68 percent over the past year, closing at $101.17 per share on Tuesday and rising further in pre-market trading Wednesday morning following the announcement of the Empirical acquisition.

Tableau isn’t yet talking about its plans for expanding its new Cambridge RD office, but the acquisition announcement describes Cambridge as a “talent-rich city,” and Empirical’s jobs page lists openings for a front-end engineer and a numerics engineer.

Founded in 2003, Tableau made its first acquisition in 2015, purchasing Montreal-based Infoactive. The company bought Munich-based high-performance database company HyPer in 2016 and last year acquired ClearGraph, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup that made voice search data discovery technology.



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