(Photo courtesy of Zoomi)
Jim Walker was 29 when he moved back in with his parents.
It was 1999 and he had just started his first company, a pharmaceutical software firm called Octagon Research Solutions. Walker, a former pharma consultant with multiple graduate degrees, moved in to his parents house in Bethlehem, Pa., so he could put all his money into the business.
It paid off. Thirteen years and $17.3 million in venture capital later, Walker sold Octagon to Accenture for an undisclosed amount in 2012, reportedly garnering a 6x return for investor Edison Ventures. The company employed 450, most of which worked at the company’s Wayne headquarters, at the time of sale.
After a year as a partner at Accenture, Walker, now 45, is at it again with his next business, Zoomi.
He recently closed a $4.4 million Series A from mostly East Coast investors. Walker declined to name his investors, though the SEC filing lists a handful of entrepreneurs who have had recent exits, like his twin brother, Neal Walker (also a cofounder of Octagon), and Stephen Tullman, who most recently led Malvern’s Ceptaris Therapeutics to exit.
Zoomi’s software, according to Walker, is like “a virtual tutor.” It watches how a user interacts with educational content to figure out how that person learns. Maybe a person keeps rewinding a certain section of a video or spends extra long looking at images. Zoomi’s software looks for patterns then changes the content according to that user’s learning habits. That translates to higher productivity, cost savings and less risk, Walker said.
There’s no “one size fits all” approach to learning, Walker said, and Zoomi is a response to that.
The company’s initial target market is heavily regulated industries like those of banking and pharma (and one would expect Walker to have a serious address book for that industry), though the company is open to any industry using the software. Walker said. He would not disclose specifics on pricing but said it would be per user, per year.
Zoomi is a few weeks away from signing its first paying customers, he said.
The software was developed by Zoomi CTO Dr. Mung Chiang, an engineering professor at Princeton who has written several research papers on the topic of learning styles and “individualized education.” (The software was not developed at Princeton, though, so Princeton doesn’t have any stake in it, Walker said.)
What about applying this type of software to K-12 or higher education? General manager William McColgan said that’s part of the bigger vision but the team is focused on corporate clients first.
The company’s 20-person team works out of a 20,000-square-foot office in Malvern, close to Walker’s home in Chester Springs. Through Edison Ventures, Walker is also chairman of the board of Jersey City clinical trial compliance company TrialScope. (And in case you were curious, he no longer lives with his parents.)