Google buys Oxford start-up

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Oxford University start-up Plink Search Ltd has is the first UK Company to be purchased by Google Inc.

Mark Cummins and James Philbin, Information Engineering graduate students at the Department of Engineering Science, founded the firm in 2009.

PlinkArt, available as a mobile app on the Google Android Market, enables users identify works of art by photographing them with their phone.
The company applies technology developed during the pair’s doctoral research to create a search engine based on visual art, rather than text. 

Cummins explained, “We started by talking to the university about licensing the IP from our PhD work – that was almost two years ago.

“We’d been taking steps towards it for a year or two before that, though.”
Plink won a $100,000 prize from Google last December after winning a public vote for the best reference app on Android. The company was also a finalist at Seedcamp, a London-based event offering advice for European start-ups.

Following the public launch of the company, over 50,000 users downloaded the app in just four weeks.

The Mona Lisa is the picture most searched for by PlinkArt’s users, with Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Monet the most frequently snapped artists.

Plink’s founders are both members of Oxford Entrepreneurs and hired subsidised office space in the OE Incubation Centre on St. Giles to set up the company whilst studying at the university.

Google’s acquisition of Plink reflects its continuing focus on the mobile platform as it competes with Apple’s iPhone for dominance in the fast-growing smartphone market.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Cummins and Philbin wrote, “We’re looking forward to helping the Goggles team build a visual search engine that works for everything you see around you.

“There are beautiful things to be done with computer vision – it’s going to be a lot of fun!

OE President, Jordan Poulton, congratulated the pair’s success, “It has been an absolute pleasure having them in the OE Incubation Centre, and it will be a shame to lose them to Silicon Valley”.

For other potential student entrepreneurs, he added, “OE are launching a new programme this summer – Kick Start – offering up to £15,000 cash investment as well as mentoring, support and advice to startups in the web/tech space.”

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