‘It’s Essentially Putting Intelligence In The Software’: Solido CEO Talks Machine Learning, Government Grants And Local Tech Growth

May 19, 2017
Solido Design Automation Inc. CEO Amit Gupta in the Saskatoon-based technology
company’s newly-expanded Innovation Place office.
Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Last week, Solido Design Automation Inc. received a repayable $1.8 million federal grant to support its development of machine learning, which is expected to make its computer chip design software more efficient and effective. On Monday, the Saskatoon-based company’s CEO, University of Saskatchewan engineering graduate Amit Gupta, spoke with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix about how that technology will shape the next generation of computer chips and the company’s role in the city’s burgeoning technology sector.

Q: What is machine learning, and how does it factor into Solido’s computer chip design software business?

A: What machine learning involves is the ability for software itself to learn through data, and to predict new data automatically. It’s essentially this automated learning that’s going on within a software system. What we’re doing with respect to machine learning is in the context of automating chip design. It’s essentially putting intelligence in the software to be able to make better chips to be able to make better devices for you and I.

Q: What does that mean in practical terms, for Solido and for the people buying consumer electronics?

A: With this funding we’re going to hire 15 engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians to come in to Solido and help us develop these machine learning-based software products. They will enable the engineers in the Broadcoms, Nvidias and IBMs of the world — we have customers literally around the world — to use our software to … design faster, lower-power, lower-area chips. The chips they’re making are better chips, and then the system companies of the world — the people who are making the smartphones and the tablets and the PCs — use these chips inside of their products in order to make a better product.

Q: How does this grant factor into Solido’s ongoing expansion plans? 

A: We’ve had 50 to 70 per cent revenue growth each year since 2009, so we’ve been really skyrocketing and our team is doubling this year to 105 employees from about 50 employees last year. What this funding from the Government of Canada’s going to do is allow us to build out new software products. There’s constantly this push for new leading-edge technology.

Q: Saskatchewan has seen controversy over technology companies accepting government funds. Why should the government invest in a firm that is already up and running — and growing rapidly?

A: It’s really important to continue to invest in (small- and medium-sized companies) because those are the companies that really move the needle in terms of job creation, in terms of becoming anchor technology companies in a community. The $1.8 million is going to get paid back, but then there’s going to be the multiplicative effect. We’re going to hire 15 engineers, and then out of those 15 engineers, the revenue we generate and the profit we get, we’re going to easily hire three, four, five times that number of engineers. They’re going to be in Saskatoon … so you get the multiplicative effect of them investing in the local economy.

Q: How do you view Solido’s role in the city’s growing technology sector?

A: It’s really healthy to have companies at various stages. If you’re a company that’s earlier in the lifecycle, you can see, ‘Yeah, this is how a company like Solido goes out and is able to sell its software to a worldwide market, this is how they’re growing a team, this is how they’re attracting talent, this is how they’re raising venture capital and investment.’ I think having these examples at various stages of growth gives companies the confidence that they’re able to grow to the next level within a city like Saskatoon.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

By: Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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