Next giant corporations will come from start-ups; AI is the future: NVIDIA

Sangeetha Chengappa Bengaluru | Updated on April 21, 2018


NVIDIA’s Inception programme, a virtual accelerator that supports 2,800 deep learning and AI start-ups globally, has built up a base of nearly 200 start-ups in India, in less than two years. In an interview with BusinessLine at San Jose, on the sidelines of the company’s annual GPU Technology Conference (GTC 2018) late last month, Arjun Dutt, Director, Inception, NVIDIA, talked about how these start-ups are selected and supported, and his long-term vision for the programme.

How many applications have you received for Inception, from which regions and what is the criteria for selection?

We have received over 4,000 applications to date, of which we work with 2800 start-ups. Thirty to 35 per cent of the start-ups are in North America and Latin America, another 30-35 per cent are in Europe and the Middle East and the rest are in Asia-Pacific and Japan.

A significant chunk, almost 200, are in India. Sigtuple, Edge Networks, Huew, Silversparro, Fluid AI, Deep Learn Labs, Qure AI, are some of the Indian start-ups. We look for start-ups that have a raised seed funding of at least $100,000, that have a clear market focus and a clear agenda, because it’s a big programme.

We need them to be self-directed, to know which of our benefits they would like to take advantage of and interview every start-up that joins the programme.

Does NVIDIA invest in these start-ups in exchange for equity?

We don’t invest in them or give them cash. We have a different team within NVIDIA called GPU Ventures, which invests in companies in exchange for equity.

However, we put together a pitch competition to highlight the best of the best with a cash prize purse of $1 million this year, split three ways across 3 different winners in 3 categories — one for healthcare (Subtle Medical), one for enterprise (AiFi ) and one for autonomous systems (Kinema Systems). We had 200 applications for the pitch competition.

This prize is just a grant, we take no equity in exchange for that money. This is fairly unique, we want the start-ups to feel as unencumbered as possible.

What kind of support does NVIDIA provide these start-ups?

Our team is composed of people with commercial business development experience, start-up experience and technical experience, so we are able to be relevant when we engage with these start-ups. AI companies are building their product suites using NVIDIA’s technology, we give them access to our technologies and give them a big discount (30 per cent) on our hardware. We provide early access to our software, that can be a huge game changer.

They get access to learning resources through our Deep Learning Institute and advisory resources within NVIDIA who can guide them as they built out their technology. We help with go-to-market, where we actually do joint sales and we have done that with many start-ups.

Do you have a joint revenue-sharing model with these start-ups and do you co-own the IP?

We are building and selling infrastructure. Most of the start-ups are building new IP, they are collecting data, they are building applications; we generally keep that separate. But, what we find is that there’s a synergy — if they grow, we will also grow because their success creates a demand for our offerings.

For example, if I told a retailer they can use NVIDIA’s GPU to solve the issue of long queues at checkout counters, as a business executive, he wouldn’t know where to start with that, but if I said here’s AiFi, a start-up that has a scalable checkout-free solution for stores, that has built this whole application using cameras that are in your store, which runs on our infrastructure, the solution becomes crystal clear to him. But, AiFi’s IP is entirely theirs and our IP is at our infrastructure level. Revenue sharing is done separately. AiFi will have their own pricing model and to the extent that it creates a demand for GPUs, which we will provide at our price.

What is your long-term vision for Inception?

Our belief is that the next giant corporations are going to come out of this pool of start-ups today and we think AI is the future and some of these entrepreneurs that are building these companies, will become incredibly successful and scale at an unprecedented level. And we want to support them in their journey as they get there.

Published on April 20, 2018

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