No. 262 – Building the Future

Kunle Olukotun

Over the past several weeks, Robert Smith, the founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, has been making the media rounds. He’s been talking about his work ensuring that black small business owners get the funding they need in the next round of stimulus Congress passes. 

In the first wave of PPP loan funding that the SBA distributed, a black-owned banks were not integrated with the SBA’s systems, and weren’t able to make sure their customers were able to secure PPP funding. One of Robert’s portfolio companies, Finastra, has been working with black-owned banks to make sure they’re plugged in this time around. 

Also, in his media rounds, he’s been calling out the disparity in access black-owned banks and businesses have to the resources they need to survive. Making sure this reality doesn’t slip to the background in policymakers’ thinking. 

It’s been encouraging to see him work on this and I’m hopeful more black-owned small businesses benefit as a result. I actually was wondering the other day how he would look in that Treasury Secretary role. Perhaps, something to keep an eye on.

Robert Smith is an example of a black person making big moves that can benefit black folks at scale. Out in Silicon Valley, Kunle Olukotun is doing work that maybe doesn’t directly benefit black folks. Though, it is incredibly inspiring to watch someone push technology into the next generation. 

Kunle cofounded SambaNova Systems a few years ago. I’ve written about him before. They’ve raised $450M to develop an entirely new computing system designed for an artificial intelligence world. It’s not entirely clear what this computer system is going to look like, but a chip will be part of the system. 

This is important to know because there Is an arms race going on right now between the incumbent chip makers like Nvidia, AMD, Intel, and this new generation of startups that are building new chip technology including SambaNova. They are all pushing towards the new world of artificial intelligence we’re entering. 

Last week, Nvidia announced their new graphics processing unit (GPU) architecture called Ampere. I won’t go into details on the technology behind this technology because I’m still trying to make sure that I understand it well. Essentially, a GPU processes tons of calculations and data to power massive computing systems. What is important to know is that this GPU is extremely powerful and the chip it goes on, A100, is massive. This is one of the most powerful chips that has been created to date. 

The chip will be used in data centers and for artificial intelligence applications. The U.S. government has already installed some of these chips to use in conducting research on this COVID-10 pandemic to speed up the process of figuring out what’s happening and identifying potential solutions.

This is what Kunle’s SambaNova is up against. I love a good David and Goliath story and this is one. In its fiscal year 2020, Nvidia spent $2.8 billion dollars on research and development. That’s an enormous amount of money. I mentioned earlier that Samba Nova has raised $450M in total. SambaNova has an uphill battle in getting its technology out into the world. If they’re successful, the future looks slightly different for all of us – hopefully, for the better. 

So, while I root for Robert Smith as he advocates for black small businesses to get the resources they need to survive through this pandemic, I’m also going to be doing some cheering for Kunle as he shows the world an incredible example of black folks building the future. 

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