About two years ago, when writing a blog piece about why Micron Ventures exists, I noted that the key takeaway being that it’s very hard for large companies to respond quickly to disruptions and rapidly emerging trends in the market. Micron Ventures provides a mechanism for the company to nimbly identify and help nurture innovation beyond our core market footprint.
Since that blog, much has changed. Many people have been working from home offices, figuring out how to take care of family while staying productive and even in some cases, running key pieces of the global supply chain remotely in the middle of a pandemic.
While the pandemic has been disruption to the extreme, we anticipate the disruption will end at some point. However, our world in venture investing is one of continuous disruption — and envisioning where disruption is likely to occur with the right catalysts.
We want to share our views on the technology trends of most interest in the startup world and our thoughts on which technologies promise to affect the world and Micron in 2022 and beyond. This blog, Part 1 of 2, features the views of me, while you’ll be able to see Andy Byrnes’ outlook in the upcoming Part 2.
G’s take from reading the tea leaves
There are quite a few areas and industries seeing massive disruption, but I am focusing on two areas that I believe will see some marked change in the near term. The first is rapid adoption of technology in health care and life sciences. The other is the continued innovation of “software-enabled hardware,” and no, I do not mean the internet of things! Here are my thoughts on each.
Intersection of technology in health care and life sciences
We have known that gaps existed across the health care and life science sectors in how we research, diagnose or even treat diseases or conditions, but the COVID-19 pandemic exposed and laid bare the massive cracks in these systems — all the way from drug discovery to patient treatment and care. But it also showed how technology can help bridge some of these gaps.
During the pandemic, many patients with chronic conditions were unable to continue their care with their physicians due to the fear of infection. Telemedicine rose to the challenge, even focusing on specialized and equitable care. Think Maven or Tia.
The health care sector is also seeing the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applied in unique ways:
- Images in areas including radiology (DeepAI), pathology (PathAI and Paige), gastroenterology (Iterative Scopes, a company in our Micron Ventures’ portfolio) and ultrasound (Butterfly Network, Exo and DiA Imaging Analysis)
- Text and unstructured data such as electronic medical records (EMRs) to provide personalized diagnostics like nference
- Speech and natural language processing (NLP) technologies such as Suki (think Siri for health care) or Corti (with automatic Q&A for patient consultations)
- Drug discovery by companies such as Atomwise and insitro, among others
One common thread in all these innovations is the use of data, large volumes of it, to drive meaningful health outcomes. This reliance on data puts Micron at an incredibly powerful position to help. After all, Micron is where data lives!
The power of software-enabled hardware
The advancement in software and services we see today and into the future (the “metaverse,” perhaps?) would not be possible if hardware did not keep up to support and enable the pace of innovation.
I am not going to bemoan the end of Moore’s law for CPUs; instead, I’m excited by the fact that this need will drive a new wave of hardware innovation beyond the CPU. We have already seen this in the new breed of silicon and systems focused on AI acceleration, such as SambaNova, Mythic (both Micron Ventures’ portfolio companies) and others. Quantum computing hit a fever pitch in the past year. Some companies even sought funding through initial public offering via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC IPO) — such as Rigetti and IonQ, to name a few. Dramatically changing the platform is one way to speed the pace of innovation.
But what does hardware innovation mean for the end user or the application developer? I think many of us would be hard-pressed to determine the components of a hardware platform that we’re using based simply on the experience of using it. In general, the difference between a five-year-old system and a new one might be hard to identify in a blind test. This is a very telling statement — hardware innovation for the sake of innovation is meaningless. We need to see (and experience) tangible results from that innovation.
This is where I believe software has a critical role to play—just as it has historically. IBM built a great PC, but the operating system from a dinky little startup at that time, Microsoft, led to eventually making PCs synonymous with Windows. NVIDIA is an example of a hardware leader that also recognizes the vital role of software and ecosystem development. That company introduced a software called CUDA in 2006, and today, NVIDIA has an ecosystem of over two million developers using the software and driving new use cases optimized for its portfolio of GPUs.
Software is that translation layer that understands and unlocks the capabilities of the underlying hardware, making it easier to be used — what we call software-enabled hardware.
I believe we will see flavors of software enablement in two areas:
- Data center use cases such as WekaIO (a software file system building the data platform for AI and ML) or Paperspace (ML Ops that wrap up complex infrastructure for developers to consume with software), both of which are Micron Ventures’ portfolio companies
- Application domains such as Oculii (software-defined radar, acquired by Ambarella), Scopio Labs (changing the world of microscopy by leveraging computational imaging) and more
The hardest part about writing this blog was picking a handful of areas; after all, there is innovation in every sector and vertical in the market today. The Ventures team at Micron is small, but Micron is large and interfacing with technology innovation in some form or fashion all around the globe. Which is why we have a compelling basis to discuss synergy with any exciting startup out there.
So, “keep your ear to the ground” for innovative startups. If you know or learn of one that we at Micron Ventures should be talking to, be sure to contact us! We would love to talk to you.
In the meantime, watch out for Part 2 to this blog, where Andy Byrnes will share his views about other leading technology trends and opportunities that Micron Ventures is exploring.