Thursday, October 10, 2019

KAUST startup UnitX closes $2 million investment

KAUST startup UnitX recently secured $2 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Saudi Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures Fund.


​​UnitX, a KAUST artificial intelligence (AI) and supercomputing startup spin-out company and a barrier-breaking cloud-based supercomputing provider that helps enterprises deploy AI at scale, has secured $2 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Saudi Aramco's Wa'ed Ventures Fund.

The injection of joint funding will support UnitX in its quest to democratize supercomputing and help enterprises of all sizes leverage technologies such as high performance data analytics to make data-driven decisions, reduce IT spending, innovate and become globally competitive.

Successful AI adoption requires scale: the infrastructure to perform both big compute (trillions of calculations per second) and Big Data (analysis of data in excess of 2 terabytes) tasks. Modern supercomputers are specialized machines that process both tasks efficiently at much higher speeds compared to public clouds.

However, they can cost tens of millions of dollars to own and operate and have been affordable by only large companies, universities and government. UnitX democratizes supercomputing via partnerships with institutions that have spare supercomputing capacity and by making it available in an easy-to-use cloud model to its clients in traditionally underserved industry verticals in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Tamer Osman, head of the KAUST Innovation Fund, stated: "UnitX is bridging a new frontier in advancing big compute power and making it more accessible to sectors that have previously been unable to access the benefits of supercomputing. At KAUST, we are actively investing in startups and technology that are shaping industry 4.0, and UnitX is deep tech startup at the forefront of this revolution."

Salman T. Jaffrey, chief investment officer at Wa'ed Ventures and an incoming board member on UnitX, praised the efforts and ambition of UnitX's cofounders⁠—Kiran Narayanan, Ravi Samtaney, Ankita Shree and Salman Kattan⁠—and their inspiring journey.

"We are thrilled to have led this investment with KAUST, which is testament to our fund's inimitable approach on fueling the growth of Kingdom-based startups and shared vision of advancing the Saudi venture ecosystem," Jaffrey said.

Pictured from left to right (front row): Dr. Kevin Cullen, vice president, KAUST Innovation and Economic Development; Wassim Basrawi, managing director at Wa’ed Ventures; and Kiran Narayanan, UnitX CEO. File photo.
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Various key industry verticals⁠—including governments, healthcare, manufacturing, banking, retail and insurance⁠—are currently neither adequately nor accessibly served by big compute, data analytics and AI. Those industries face the dual challenges of running big compute workloads while simultaneously integrating different IT resources.Currently, the standard solutions of on-premise servers, public cloud providers and supercomputing centers have significant access barriers and security concerns. According to figures from IDC, the market for supercomputing demand is currently valued at $224 billion with a projected 25 percent year-on-year growth.

UnitX delivers an easy access solution for companies needing scalable, affordable and secure big compute infrastructure. Their product, the UnitXTM Sentient, docks ready-to-deploy applications and workflows for artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), that can be launched with the click of a button on the most suitable compute hardware, such as public clouds, a client's on-premise clusters or the latest supercomputers in the UnitX partner network.

UnitX's proprietary AI algorithms select the best resources for each end user. The use of container technology ensures that each software application is docked on the platform in a manner that is hardware-agnostic while ensuring total security.

UnitX delivers to the end user tenfold faster results, a 60 percent reduction in costs and easier workflows. Security concerns are alleviated for CIOs or data center managers with improved data security, no CSP lock-in and increased transparency.

Specifically, this co-investment will be used in UnitX's rapid team expansion in order to cater to growing client demands. Additionally, the funding will support business development for large clients (financial and retail) as well as SMEs. The team is currently securing contracts with leading financial, insurance, retail and SMEs. UnitX is expected to grow and cater to government, supply chain and oil and gas stakeholders.

UnitX co-founder and CEO Kiran Narayanan stated: "UnitX is excited to have Aramco's Wa'ed Ventures and the KAUST Innovation Fund onboard as investors. With their support, we will be able to generate value both locally in Saudi Arabia, expand globally and innovate further."

"UnitX is an agile company," he continued. "We are breaking the barriers of skill and access to supercomputers⁠—which are traditionally expensive beyond the reach of most companies⁠—and partnering with institutions that have unused supercomputing power. We then make this spare capacity available to the companies on our platform in a manner that is easy to use."

Since the UnitX platform's public launch in May 2019, it has established supercomputing partnerships with KAUST; King Abdulaziz University; a technology partnership with Atrio; and a strategic partnership with Virtual Integrated Analytics Solutions. Most notably, UnitX was a finalist in Startup Istanbul in October 2018; a winner of the Arabnet competition in Riyadh in December 2018; and was chosen as one of the Saudi finalists in the MiSK-organized Entrepreneurship World Cup in June 2019.


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