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September 25, 2018

Legit: Reducing R&D waste with artificial intelligence

Matt Osman is CEO and cofounder of Legit, the Cambridge-based startup using proprietary natural language processing algorithms to dramatically streamline the R&D process.

Daniel de Wolff

In 2015, Matt Osman was the youngest VP at a $1 billion structured credit hedge fund in London. He also just happened to be a trained attorney with a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University and a fascination with artificial intelligence. In particular, he was interested in the effect he thought AI would have on professional services. “I became very interested in structured data sets like legal documents and what AI could do using them as a data source,” he says. Meanwhile, Jacob Rosen was finishing his MS at MIT CSAIL and had just published his paper, “Tax Non-Compliance Detection Using Co-Evolution of Tax Evasion Risk and Audit Likelihood," which won the Best Innovative Application Paper Award at ICAIL 2015.

When Rosen’s research presenting an algorithm that could anticipate tax evasion found its way onto Osman’s desk, Osman was understandably impressed. “I thought it was so cool he had basically built a tax attorney out of these algorithms that I stepped out of my office and called him immediately,” he says.

Matt Osman
CEO & Cofounder, Legit

Legit was formed with the belief that they could apply Rosen’s work on coevolutionary algorithms to the world of research and development. “We founded Legit because we saw huge inefficiencies with the way that engineers, researchers, and scientists determined whether or not their ideas were novel or applicable in other technology areas,” says Osman. Their third co-founder and Chief Scientist is Anthony Bucci, a highly esteemed computer scientist and Tufts University lecturer with a specialization in coevolutionary algorithms.

It works like this: Within a corporate R&D context, the user plugs their description of a new product idea into the Legit platform. In real time, Legit uses natural language processing, a subset of AI, to extract all the concepts from that idea and cross reference them with 30 million pieces of technical literature. Within seconds, an R&D team knows if they have a novel idea on their hands or how similar two (or three or four) technical ideas are to each other, thereby aiding R&D teams to verify what’s new and valuable at lighting speed.

According to Deloitte’s innovation practice, Doblin Group, 96 percent of innovations fail to return the cost of capital. Osman notes that a key reason these projects don’t succeed is because a product has been tried before or there is a failure to differentiate from the competition. In other words, if you consider the fact that there is a tremendous amount of capital invested pursuing dead-end ideas, Legit is clearing the path to innovation and saving quite a bit of money in the process.

Legit launches new features approximately every two weeks, meaning they are intent on rapidly increasing their capabilities and reach. And the value of their platform has not gone unnoticed. They’re currently working with Stanley Black & Decker’s Breakthrough Innovation team in Boston. For engineers, Legit functions as a single repository for all their ideas in various stages: “A bit like a CRM that provides feedback on how valuable their ideas are likely to be and how similar they are to other ideas,” says Osman. But it isn’t just the fortune 500 American manufacturer that is using the platform to reduce waste. Legit also works with early-stage medical device companies and large life sciences companies. Regardless of size, scale, or industry, Osman is confident that if you have an R&D team, you can benefit from partnering with Legit.

An essential feature of the platform is its ability to identify collaboration opportunities across a siloed R&D team or organization. For example, one of their larger clients has disparate R&D teams spread throughout the world. “An engineer in Paris can be working on something and we can identify how similar that is to what the engineers in San Diego, for example, are working on—in real time,” says Osman. “In terms of combining real-time feedback or novelty and value, deep competitive analysis, and then also this very engaging environment for engineers and R&D teams to live in, I think we’re among the first to combine all of them.”

With Rosen as CTO, it’s no surprise that MIT has featured heavily in the Legit story. Rosen’s work in the ALFA Group at CSAIL led to ALFA Group’s Principal Research Scientist Dr. Una-May O’Reilly playing a key role in bringing the founding team together by introducing Rosen and Osman to Bucci. Dr. O’Reilly also functioned as technical advisor to the fledgling startup and, according to Osman, is still very close to the team. Which is why it should come as no surprise that they’ve chosen to stay close to home, with offices in Cambridge, MA. “This is probably the most innovative square mile or two on earth—it’s certainly up there. Given that we’re a company devoted to increasing R&D efficiency, I think we’re in the right place,” says Osman.

With regard to his experiences with MIT ILP, Osman says the experience has been extremely useful. “I think that having people who are focused on listening to the needs of large corporations, particularly R&D departments, has been invaluable. The introductions have always been incredibly well curated, and the events are a fantastic way for us to meet the people we’re interested in collaborating with.”

Osman has a very clear and concise message for ILP member companies: “The technology we provide is the first step in building the future of R&D. We’re offering ILP member companies the opportunity to be a part of building that future.”

He notes that what they are looking for in partners is the spirit of innovation and active collaboration. Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Legit has their own R&D department, which is rare for a company of their size. It’s part of why he thinks Legit makes such an interesting partner for large corporates. They understand the R&D pain points, which means they understand how difficult it is to innovate. “We’re trying to sell the ingredients of innovation,” says Osman. At the moment Legit sells software applications, but the goal is much more expansive. “Eventually we’ll start brokering introductions to the right talent, then to the right suppliers and materials. In time, we’ll become a one-stop shop for the ingredients of innovation.”

About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.