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IBM is dropping tall stacks of money on “cognitive” software for speed-reading huge loads of information, which means it’s the perfect time for other companies to pop up with cognitive-computing solutions.

To wit, here comes Saffron Technology, based in Cary, N.C., but planning to open an office in Silicon Valley now that it’s raised $7 million in funding.

Whether vendors invoke the cognitive computing term or not, though, it’s becoming more popular to use machines to process data sets at volumes humans can’t parse on their own in order to enable new applications and add accuracy and depth to existing ones.

Rather than roll a megabox into their data centers or pay tens of thousands of dollars for software licenses up front, companies are tapping machine-learning application programming interfaces and paying on a freemium basis to introduce these capabilities.

Saffron stands to pick up momentum as these trends take hold.

Former IBMers Jim Fleming and Manuel Aparicio started Saffron in 1999. “They had an idea for buidling and scaling an associated memory technology platform that would work more like a a human,” Saffron chief executive Gayle Sheppard said in an interview with VentureBeat.

“Their dream was to create technology that worked more like humans.”

The software they created can ingest many forms of data — emails, phone records, whatever — and handle new streams coming in on the fly. Then, it can identify, measure, and count connections among people and things, as well as patterns emerging for the first time, Sheppard said.

It’s different from IBM’s Watson in some ways. Saffron doesn’t need to impose a model on all data; rather, it changes over time to match the data, Sheppard said. It can start making sense of data in a matter of 30 days.

The company now has 12 customers, including Boeing, the Curtiss-Wright Corp., and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We have not been out in the market, selling Saffron. [That’s] the reason why we have a small number of customers,” Sheppard said.

The new round will help the company take on more business, and it will also increase Saffron’s data-visualization capabilities.

Intel Capital participated in the funding round, alongside previous investors. To date, the company has taken on $13.8 million.

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