A Chat with Maitane Torca, Co-Founder at Programmatic Advertising AI Platform: Illuma Technology

Maitane Torca

Illuma is a contextual adtech tool operating in the programmatic exchange. It targets ads based on the content of a page rather than the identity of the individual, and it uses AI to operate reactively and at scale.

Illuma was founded in London in 2016 by a team of data scientists. It’s now used by global brands and trading desks looking to boost reach, relevance and performance for their advertising campaigns, while also prioritising consumer privacy and experience.
Adtech startup Illuma Technology set for rapid growth as it joins PwC's  prestigious Raise programme

How did you come up with the idea for Illuma?

The founding team was already working in contextual advertising for a company called Iconic and we worked with various technologies including Grapeshot in 2008, which is now one of the biggest players in the contextual market.

But we felt that existing methods and tools left major challenges unsolved for advertisers – namely how to scale campaigns without losing audience relevance, and how to do this without using cookies or personal data.

Most advertising plans are set before a campaign starts and limit reach by either targeting individuals based on previous browsing behaviour, or by matching ads to same-topic content.

We had a hunch that the contexts that were proving effective for a campaign in real-time could teach us about the online ‘moments’ that drive success. If we could harness that knowledge and use AI to adapt on the fly during live campaigns, we knew could expand campaigns and keep them relevant by reacting to opportunities as they arose.

Our team of data scientists got to work. We started running tests in 2013 and then launched Illuma in 2016 from our offices in Barbican, London, which is where we still are today.


How has the industry changed since then and how has Illuma adapted?

More enlightened brands have been slowly moving away from hyper-personalisation and cookie-based targeting for some time. But this process has dramatically accelerated in the last two years, largely powered by new privacy regulations and by Google announcing it is removing tracking cookies from Chrome at the end of 2023.

So the ad industry is now at a pivotal moment and Illuma is very well positioned to help – our contextual technology is specialist, well-established and with proven results, and of course it works without relying on personal data or cookies.

On a separate note, tech has always been a very male-dominated space but I’m seeing more women coming into adtech and occupying leadership roles, particularly in the last 5 years. This is great to see.

What can we expect next from Illuma?

Expansion is on the horizon – we’re currently in a Series A fundraising programme with PwC and we’re planning to build a bigger team in the US. We’re also in advanced talks with a number of trade desks, agencies and publishers who can see that Illuma is offering answers to their most urgent challenges.