CentML lands $27M from Nvidia, others to make AI models run more efficiently


An array of Nvidia video cards used for cryptocurrency mining.
Image Credits: Akos Stiller / Bloomberg (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Contrary to what you might’ve heard, the era of large seed rounds isn’t over — at least in the AI sector.

CentML, a startup developing tools to decrease the cost — and improve the performance — of deploying machine learning models, this morning announced that it raised $27 million in an extended seed round with participation from Gradient Ventures, TR Ventures, Nvidia and Microsoft Azure AI VP Misha Bilenko.

CentML initially closed its seed round in 2022, but extended the round over the last few months as interest in its product grew — bringing its total raised to $30.5 million.

The fresh capital will be used to bolster CentML’s product development and research efforts in addition to expanding the startup’s engineering team and broader workforce of 30 people spread across the U.S. and Canada, according to CentML co-founder and CEO Gennady Pekhimenko.

Pekhimenko, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, co-founded CentML last year alongside Akbar Nurlybayev and PhD students Shang Wang and Anand Jayarajan. Pekhimenko says that they shared a vision of creating tech that could increase access to compute in the face of the worsening AI chip supply problem.

“Machine learning costs, talent and chip shortages… any AI and machine learning company faces at least one of these challenges, and most face a few at a time,” Pekhimenko told TechCrunch in an email interview. “The highest-end chips are commonly unavailable due to the large demand from enterprises and startups alike. This leads to companies sacrificing on the size of the model they can deploy or results in higher inference latencies for their deployed models.”

Most companies training models, particularly generative AI models like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion, rely heavily on GPU-based hardware. GPUs’ ability to perform many computations in parallel make them well-suited to training today’s most capable AI.

But there are not enough chips to go around.

Microsoft is facing a shortage of the server hardware needed to run AI so severe that it might lead to service disruptions, the company warned in a summer earnings report. And Nvidia’s best-performing AI cards are reportedly sold out until 2024.

That’s led some companies, including OpenAI, Google, AWS, Meta and Microsoft, to build — or explore building — their own custom chips for model training. But even this hasn’t proven to be a panacea. Meta’s efforts have been beset with issues, leading the company to scrap some of its experimental hardware. And Google hasn’t managed to keep pace with demand for its cloud-hosted, homegrown GPU equivalent, the tensor processing unit (TPU), Wired reported recently.

With spending on AI-focused chips expected to hit $53 billion this year and more than double in the next four years, according to Gartner, Pekhimenko felt the time was right to launch software that could make models run more efficiently on existing hardware.

“Training AI and machine learning models is increasingly expensive,” Pekhimenko said. “With CentML’s optimization technology, we’re able to reduce expenses up to 80% without compromising speed or accuracy.”

That’s quite a claim. But at a high level, CentML’s software is relatively easy to make sense of.

The platform attempts to identify bottlenecks during model training and predict the total time and cost to deploy a model. Beyond this, CentML provides access to a compiler — a component that translates a programming language’s source code into machine code that hardware like a GPU can understand — to automatically optimize model training workloads to perform best on target hardware.

Pekhimenko claims that CentML’s software doesn’t degrade models and requires “little to no effort” for engineers to use.

“For one of our customers, we optimized their Llama 2 model to work 3x faster by using Nvidia A10 GPU cards,” she added.

CentML isn’t the first to take a software-based approach to model optimization. It has competitors in MosaicML, which Databricks acquired in June for $1.3 billion, and OctoML, which landed an $85 million cash infusion in November 2021 for its machine learning acceleration platform.

But Pekhimenko asserts that CentML’s techniques don’t result in a loss of model accuracy, like MosaicML’s can sometimes do, and that CentML’s compiler is “newer generation” and more performant than OctoML’s compiler.

In the near future, CentML plans to turn its attention to optimizing not only model training but inference — i.e. running models after they’ve been trained. GPUs are heavily used in inference today as well, and Pekhimenko sees it as a potential avenue of growth for the company.

“The CentML platform can run any model,” Pekhimenko said. “CentML produces optimized code for a variety of GPUs and reduces the memory needed to deploy models, and, as such, allows teams to deploy on smaller and cheaper GPUs.”

More TechCrunch

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

16 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

3 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

3 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies