Jan 23, 2016
By Alex Kopelyan
Putting Biological Supercomputers in the Palm of your Hand: an Interview with Oshiorenoya Agabi of Koniku
Putting Biological Supercomputers in the Palm of your Hand: an Interview with Oshiorenoya Agabi of Koniku

As ambitions to create newer and faster supercomputers grow, so do the challenges. Increasing computational power comes with demands of scale, stability, and accessibility.

Koniku is a startup working to solve this by harnessing the power of biological neurons to create the next generation of supercomputers. I talked with Koniku’s CEO, Oshiorenoya E. Agabi, about his story, goals for Koniku, and changing the science of computation. Check out his pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

A: Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

O: I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria where I also did my bachelors. While getting my master’s in physics I remember a Russian professor telling me that if I wanted to make an impact I needed to go to a field where not a lot has been done and there’s opportunity to quantify everything. Following his advice, I took a course in neuroscience and knew right away this was it. Since then I’ve been working in computational neuroscience – quantifying how neurons function, engineering how to talk to them, and building tech out of them. After writing my master’s thesis on using biological neurons to do computation, I went to Imperial College in London to do my PhD in Computational Neuroscience and Bioengineering. That’s where I founded Koniku.

A: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Koniku?

O: The question is how to build a truly cognitive system. To do larger applications, we currently have to build massive and unscalable server farms. If we ever want to get to the point of doing significant computations we have to move away from the silicon paradigm. Koniku eventually aims to build a device that is capable of thinking in the biological sense, like a human being. We think we can do this in the next two to five years. We’re currently engineering neurons such that they are sensitive to particles in parts per trillion. With our computational backend, we’ll have a device that can be used for particle detection and be used for industrial, military, and agricultural application.

A: If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

O: We want to prove  we can connect to neurons and structure biological systems, and have the ability to package that.

A: How do you think success can change your field?

O: If we’re just 60% successful as a company, we’ll change computing as we know it. We’ll see a massive shift away from the silicon computing industry. Similar to what silicon did for the information age, we’ll do this for biotech.

A: How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

O: We have a wealth of business and technical experience and expertise. This is a massive undertaking so we are still looking for more people with experience in computational neuroscience.

A: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

O: In the near term it has been delivering game-changing devices and generating early revenue. We don’t want to just move fast and break things, we want to deliver an amazing product at the same time. Since we’re building a device we can’t just update it as needed. It has to perform exceptionally well every time a customer or user buys a product. We want to deliver an exponential advantage.

A: What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

O: In the short term we would like to start delivering our sensing controls and computing devices to customers in the aviation and pharma sectors that have signed with us. We want to deliver an amazing product.

Our long-term goal is building a strong user base that lets other people make money off our devices. In the next two to five years we want this base of people programming and building separate applications for our device. It will be a true platform technology that people can build secondary products out of.

Get in touch with Osh at agabi@koniku.uk