One day, out of the blue, he was contacted by a man he had once described his research to.
It all ended up with their jointly establishing Konsido, where today he is a technical lead. And he advises others to explore the opportunities ‘on the other side’.
One day last year, Piotr Dworzynski was contacted by a man he had met socially and told about his research at the University of Copenhagen. Could Piotr help him? He had a problem, and it had occurred to him that Piotr might be able to solve it.
He was able to – and today they are two of the eight people behind Konsido ApS, a Randers-based company which, in June, was among the winners of the Circular Innovation City Challenge, an international competition promoting ‘innovative solutions with the potential to help create circular and thriving cities’. In the words of its website, Konsido is a firm that ‘provides public- and private-sector companies with insight into purchasing patterns, with a particular focus on the optimization of sustainable purchasing’.
Asked to enlarge on that description, Piotr Dworzynski explains that Konsido combines the trifecta of machine learning (or AI), a variety of data sources and traditional human expertise. His own role is to be technical lead – that is, to develop the machine learning methods as well as the data processing machinery – and, although he now works in a company, he does not think he is all that far removed from the academic world he came from. ‘Overall, I am using similar approaches to those I employed in my research’, he says.
Piotr Dworzynski had dipped his toe into the world outside the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and University of Copenhagen before joining Konsido: he worked as a data analysis consultant for Maersk Terminals and set up a project there. ‘I found that the industry can translate data analysis insights into business gains very quickly. I really liked that’, he says.
He has known since his earliest student days that he wanted to try working outside academia, but leaving it was still difficult: he worked together with Tune Pers, his mentor since his early days at the university, who supervised both his Master’s and his PhD thesis. That, he says, created the best environment a young researcher could ever hope for.
In fact, he thought he could continue in a dual role, but he had to give that up in late spring: the assignments are flooding into Konsido. The municipalities – yes, all of them – must reduce their carbon footprint, and they need to find potential cost savings all round. Many municipalities – Aarhus, Silkeborg, North Funen and Esbjerg among them – have asked Konsido to look at their purchasing. They have handed over millions of invoices to them and asked things like: ‘Can we become greener and more sustainable? Are we buying the right things from the right places? Should we stay with these suppliers or look for others?’.
‘The reality for them is that they can no longer only consider what things cost. They also have to ensure that the packaging is sustainable, that the food is more organic, for example’, says Piotr Dworzynski.
In purely practical terms, Konsido put all the data into their own databases – built by their network of experts – and out comes a very deep insight into the firms’ spending and their habits. It is categorized so that clients can see how much they are spending on what – and so that they can see, for example, whether the foodstuffs being purchased are produced on the other side of the world or locally. ‘Often, the most important thing isn’t the amount the company is paying for things, but the total combined expenditure’, he says. What if we can see that an expensive computer is the cheapest because it will last longest? Or that it won’t do in the long run only to sell a whole bag of onions packed in plastic? I get furious when I’m standing there wanting one loose onion and I can’t have it’, says Piotr.
Konsido has incredible quantities of data and can find an answer to almost any question clients can come up with. ‘But the human experts still play a key role – data rarely captures the entirety of real-life complexity, and a lot can get lost in translation’, he says.
The development work is progressing in leaps and bounds – ‘We’re better than our competitors’, he says with a self-assured smile – and, when we ask what the firm will be doing in five- or ten-years’ time, he replies, ‘It could go in many directions, and surprising ones at that’. He sees great opportunities in the healthcare system. ‘It is so vast and has such a lot of data’, he says.
He pictures them being able to provide insight into health expense trends, assessing long-term cost-effectiveness of treatments, comparing them across Danish regions and identifying pockets of the population who could benefit from treatment that might not be cost-effective in others.
In the future, he pictures himself perhaps being attached to the company, but also to academia. ‘In an increasing number of settings, one could combine work in the industry with academic research. Each side could greatly benefit from leveraging expertise developed in the other. I see my work and research as a way to repay Danish society. I began my studies in Lodz, Poland, and I came to DTU through a cancellation – I was supposed to go to Wales on an Erasmus exchange, but it fell through. Following my exchange stay, DTU invited me to stay – and now I’m long settled here with my partner and thinking that this is how I want to live my life’.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Skills developed during PhD work transfer well to the industry
- They also translate outside the biomedical sciences field altogether – and he recommends exploring opportunities on the other side.
Piotr Dworzynski finds it interesting that, during his PhD work, he developed skills - both soft and technical - that transfer well to the industry and also outside the biomedical sciences field altogether. ‘For example, the computational methods used to predict disease onset based on individuals’ medical history could be applied to all sorts of data, e.g., classification of financial invoices’, he says.
He says that an ability to work with large amounts of data, familiarity with natural language processing techniques for the Danish language or experience in transforming data analysis workflows into reproducible pipelines are applicable to a vast number of fields. On the soft-skills side, the ability to organize and lead development on scientific projects translates well into the startup world, where in many cases a person has complete responsibility for a particular aspect of a company's operation and cannot rely on structures or the support of entire teams as one could expect in larger enterprises.
‘In general, my impression is that both worlds, academia and startups, attract and develop similar personality traits such as curiosity, adaptiveness, persistence. I would whole-heartedly advise those whose life situation permits to explore the opportunities on the other side’, he says.
Piotr Dworzynski holds an MSc in computer science. He completed his Danish Diabetes Academy-funded PhD, entitled ‘Towards precision medicine: Machine learning approaches for predicting and understanding complex disease’, in August 2020.
On 7th June 2021, Konsido was declared a winner of the Circular Innovation City Challenge (https://www.circularinnovation.city) a competition organized by the cities of New York, Toronto, Amsterdam, Glasgow and Copenhagen and aimed at startups offering solutions aiding sustainability efforts in cities.
Konsido has a website – Konsido.dk – but it does not contain much text. ‘We are still in a bit of a “stealth” mode. People who want to get hold of us know who we are and what we can do’, says Piotr.