How Many Stanford Professors And Tech Executives Does It Take To Develop AI?

Founded by two Stanford professors and a veteran chip exec, Palo Alto-based SambaNova Systems is blending the best of software and hardware to create artificial intelligence technology for everyone. But this startup isn't about making small adjustments to existing systems; it wants to build something new to power the next-generation of AI applications.

Become a Subscriber

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading this article.

Subscribe Now

Beyond all the buzzy hype surrounding artificial intelligence, the tech is still very much in its infancy. Machine learning is already creating value for thousands of customers around the world, and Samba's unique approach of customizing hardware to support its specialized software means that it can radically improve performance and capabilities. AI-infused solutions available today are only the beginning of what can truly be accomplished in this space, and SambaNova wants to lead the charge.

While many of its products – and customers – are not made publicly available, co-founder Kunle Olukotun says the firm's platform can scale from a single device up to a large datacenter and beyond. In a previous statement, the company stated it created AI purpose-built devices that draw inspiration from research funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

David Munichello is a partner with Alphabet Ventures and oversaw the firm’s investment in SambaNova last year. From his perspective, it was the AI provider's "software-defined hardware" approach that brought them on board. After being shown demos comparing its offerings to existing chipset products on the market, Munichello would "leave those board meetings with chills." While there might not be an abundance of information available on its products, it's clear that what is already available is impressing people in the right circles.

“SambaNova’s innovations in machine learning algorithms and software-defined hardware will dramatically improve the performance and capability of intelligent applications,” Olukotun said. “The flexibility of the SambaNova technology will enable us to build a unified platform providing tremendous benefits for business intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics.”

Started in 2017 by Kunle Olukotun, Chris Ré, and Rodrigo Liang, the company is led by a talented group of founders who already enjoyed successful careers as college professors and as a top-flight executive at chip-maker Sun Microsystems before Samba. It's paying off as the company most recently raised $250 million in a funding round led by BlackRock.

A prior funding round in 2019 made for strange bedfellows with both Alphabet Ventures (previously Google Ventures) and Intel contributing to a $150 million raised in 2019 – some of the best in software and hardware coming together in much the same way it does for SambaNova itself. In total, the company has raised $456 million in an AI-chip market valued to be worth more than $91 billion by 2025.