Interview: Why You Shouldn’t Miss the StartupHPC Meetup at SC14

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The StartupHPC Community will host its first annual Meetup at SC14 in New Orleans on Nov. 17. How can the community foster entrepreneurship in an HPC business environment that has been rather brutal to young companies in the past? To learn more, we caught up with Cydney Ewald Stevens, Director of the StartupHPC Community.

insideHPC: What is the StartupHPC Meetup at SC14 all about?

Cydney Ewald Stevens, Director, StartupHPC

Cydney Ewald Stevens, Director, StartupHPC

Cydney Ewald Stevens: The StartupHPC Meet up is about getting smart people together. But it’s also not like your traditional meet-ups! Think of it more as an entrepreneur’s IP User Group – an open forum with leaders that really are defying and redefining the rules. You have an idea that you believe has promise … where do you start? What’s the process? Where do you take it? Who do you use as a ‘trusted’ – or trustworthy – advisor? Or you’re a start up in one of the various phases, what do you do next? What resources are available or necessary to support your strategy on whichever part of the path you’re currently on? What StartupHPC, and the meet up, offer is intimate access to some extraordinary, highly successful, individuals who are extremely well versed in taking an idea all the way through to market.

insideHPC: What prompted you to found this new StartupHPC Community? StartupHPC-image

Cydney Ewald Stevens: There’s a glut of ‘resources’ available to would be entrepreneurs … the challenge is the usefulness or validity of what’s available. More so when you consider the extraordinary talent and layers of complexity that is very unique to HPC. We can give countless examples of ideas that emerged as a ‘tool’ from and for the HPC community that have become the foundation to wildly successful commercial endeavors and yet the original ‘inventors’ received little to no gain for their creation or contribution. And while it is not necessarily always about profiting or personal gain, it should be a factor in our thinking. Particularly when the existing funding models designed to support HPC researchers are becoming more scarce and certainly more scrutinized and fiercely competitive. What we can do through StartupHPC directly is help nurture new ideas that in turn will generate future opportunities … anything from building new companies, products, services and job creation to divining new ways of doing things … whether it’s radically different inventions, challenging our definitions of “HPC” or simply saying look, do you recognize the ‘value’ of your idea? The success of one idea creates a foundation for you to continue to invent more. Personally, I see StartupHPC as an opportunity to encourage, source, support and showcase the brilliance and outcomes that is this community.

insideHPC: Can you tell me about the featured speakers?

Cydney Ewald Stevens: The lineup is crazy good! It’s like a TED starter-kit! These are not just people you will want to know, these are people you need to know!

  • startuphpcWe have Adrian Cockcroft, who’s amazing. He’s the guy that broke the conventional rules and launched Amazon and Netflix in the Cloud. Now he’s on the VC side, advising and evaluating up and comers.
  • Thomas Thurston of course is a total guru – on top of being an angel and inventor. It’s Thomas’ technology and methodology that startups and seasoned companies – and investors – rely upon to determine strategies and define success.
  • We’re also focusing on “crossing over” and “getting there” – going from a STEM education, organization or discipline to becoming a successful startup, or navigating uncharted opportunities. This will all be covered from very unique vantage points.
  • We’ve got Karl Freund who’s now with AMD but has traversed the investor, start-up and corporate landscapes, through various phases of the entire entrepreneurial and industrial lifecycle. Karl intimately knows, through experience, the challenges that success entails … becoming successful, remaining successful or reinvigorating success.
  • Wolfgang Gentzsch, our serial entrepreneur, is well known in HPC! He’s currently leading The UberCloud startup delivering compute on demand to scientists and engineers. He’s also the founder of Genias and Gridware, and the workload management software Grid Engine. On top of his impeccable CV, Wolfgang is deeply involved the most substantial international programs that directly support the HPC community. If there were somebody to recruit as a mentor … I’d put him at the top of the list!
  • We’ll also have Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting Group. Dan’s championing STEM student talent directly, which is really an important audience for us! Dan’s exclusive coverage and support of the student teams competing in the student cluster challenges has propelled SCC’s to a global competition with challenges hosted in China and Africa in addition to Europe and the US.
  • We’re also bringing in Elizabeth Leake who will be on hand to discuss STEM TREK, a really cool professional development support resource for STEM scholars specifically. And we’ll round out with a few other key speakers and topics covering everything from legal considerations to market dynamics.
  • In addition to straight up talks, our panel is also going to be over the top!

Cydney Ewald Stevens: We’ll have CxOs from startups including …  from Turbostor – a stealth mode high performance storage company; Arrayfire – the CUDA code accelerator company; Nimbix – who are delivering Cloud plus Vis as a Service. Plus we’ll have the Wunderkid who’s launched the low powered high performance computing company, Rex Computing. I’m really excited about this! I think we’re very fortunate to host really the ‘who’s who’ in HPC, industry , academia and government – many of the most knowledgeable individuals you’ll ever meet – all of whom who have successfully built upon their academic and research foundations to become successful entrepreneurs and leaders.

insideHPC: What do you think are the toughest challenges for Startups in the HPC space?

Cydney Ewald Stevens:I think the challenges begin with the individual, encouragement and risk. I don’t think that’s exclusive to HPC. What I have found as a challenge is the ‘bounding’ of what is or is not HPC and the double edged sword because of what it sort of ‘represents’ to a potential ‘investor’ to each individual. It’s complex, it’s expensive, it’s hard to neatly categorize. Whatever. There are the affinities, meaning we have always done it like this … so new is not necessarily welcomed. There is the Goliath’s of competition, or lack there of. There’s the simple challenge of awareness. What’s new. The toughest challenge of being an HPC startup is credibility – building it or having it. And acceptance. Breaking into the (mind) space is hard. Think about a disruptive technology, like virtualization, and the years it took to champion the idea that it could be applied to ‘some’ workloads. Now it’s companies like DWave or ConnectX or even the Cloud, still. Or GPU or ARM, right. Ideas or companies challenging the current convention … What’s it for? There are no apps for that? It’s too expensive! It doesn’t scale … the same was true for ENIAC, Cray-1, MPP, SMP, AIX, Alpha, x86 … and so on and so forth. All it takes is one believer though … one courageous individual who is willing to take a risk, do and try something new or different. And one courageous, perhaps a bit crazy, investor to help kickstart what could be an entirely new era! How we got here in the first place!

insideHPC: You are no stranger to the SC conference series. Can you tell me about your experiences at Supercomputing?

Bo Ewald and Cydney Ewald Stevens

Bo Ewald and Cydney Ewald Stevens

Cydney Ewald Stevens: My first SC was Reno, in 1989. I still remember it to this day. My dad was an exhibitor, so I went to ‘Family Night’ along with my grandparents. I’ll bet most people still don’t know that SC hosts a ‘family night’. Now we bring our own kids! They’ve been to Portland, Reno and Austin obviously. And our son was ‘present’ at Baltimore. I think that was where I was awarded ‘the best smile of SC’, which still makes me smile. If I could impose one thing in everyone’s minds about SC is the profound importance and impact it represents, not just as an annual event but as one industries longest running conference series – the influence and output that is created that reaches far beyond the HPC community it is intended and long after each annual conference. Efforts like the Broader Engagement and Student programs – from academic curriculums and volunteering to sponsoring career fairs or supporting attendance for under-reached individuals, worldwide. There’s a huge effort and undertaking that goes into supporting future STEM pros that has always been one of SC’s greatest charms and best kept secrets! There is so much to an SC. In addition to a stunning technical program, it’s where you can run into the next cool, disruptive technologies, exhibits and startups; SCInet, one week of the world’s largest, fastest, network. Of course one of my personal favorites is the Student Cluster Challenge (SCC), which I was a long-time sponsor and also some of the inspiration for StartupHPC! While most attendees probably don’t really realize the breadth of what SC brings to each conference, city and the community – the broader professional community aren’t even aware of what it ‘is’ or ‘means’. Which is a huge miss! I guess I know it so well because it’s just part of my life .. the kid enamored by the mystic of the ‘industry’; the vendor and exhibitor; member of committees; sponsor and champion to many of the programs …. It’s more than just a conference, an opportunity, job or community … it’s family, friends, inspiration …. It really is one of my favorite times of the year!

insideHPC: Will this be an annual event at the SC conferences?

Cydney Ewald Stevens: Fingers crossed! We’ve got the energy, excitement and even endorsements from key influencers so we know we’re on to something but ultimately demand defines the future – through registering and attending, becoming a member or even becoming a sponsor! We’re no different than any startup or company. The market determines destiny, always! Though, if you’re thinking about coming, I would encourage you to register ASAP! Space is extremely limited and will sell out soon!

insideHPC: How do I register for the StartupHPC Meetup?

Cydney Ewald Stevens: Advanced registration is available through Eventbrite, which you can link from here or directly from our website. If you’re interested in joining StartupHPC you can become a member through our Community Sign-up!


  1. Cydney, congratulations and thanks for putting this event on. The HPC community is rife with lead-edge technologies, & ideas as well as smart people. I strongly believe there are opportunities for entrepreneurial-minded individuals from our community to bring these benefits to a wider audience. Kudos for encouraging that first/next step.