Ketan Umare: Democratizing Technology via Open Source and Machine Learning
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi folks! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth, back with a new guest, Ketan Umare, CEO of Union.ai. He is committed to making a difference in the world through industry, innovation and infrastructure. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Thanks for being here today, Ketan! What challenge are you addressing with Union.ai?
Ketan: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Machine Learning is a transformative technology that has the potential to drastically improve and impact the way we live and grow. Machine Learning is when a machine learns to answer questions for you; examples can be to recognize faces in the picture, understand voice, and so on. But this technology is very hard to work with today, especially when deploying safely and reliably in production. At Union.ai, we are working on ways to make it easy and reliable for most users to deploy complex ideas to production and make this process repeatable. So that, if we discover a vaccine and publish a paper and accompany it with some code, it can be simply replicated by any other entity in the world.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Ketan: Technology is amazing, but it also has a way to concentrate with a few folks. Open source is a way to fight this concentration and make technology available to everyone. I was inspired by this power and the leveling effects of open source. Also, machine learning as discussed above is powerful. When combined with open source and freely sharable patterns, we can truly democratize how we share new breakthroughs.
Spiffy: Can you elaborate on how you and the company are working towards a more equitable world?
Ketan: We are a high-tech organization. We build software. Our contribution to the world is to make the same high-quality software that large companies use available to individuals, small companies, and non-profit companies. There are companies using our open-source software called Flyte to identify areas with large methane emissions, to identify how to create better batteries, build systems to detect cancer early, to create synthetic materials. We are not directly responsible for these breakthroughs, but our product makes these things faster to market and more reliable.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent Union.ai milestone or initiative and the impact it makes on your community.
Ketan: We recently announced a seed round, led by some of the best venture capitals in the world. This funding helps us continue to advance the state of the free open-source software. Moreover, we also announced a hosted offering of the product to make it possible for organizations to tap into the product quickly.
Spiffy: I imagine you’ve had your share of failures. I’m always eager to learn from the experiences of different entrepreneurs when it comes to dealing with setbacks. Can you share an example from your journey?
Ketan: Failures are part of entrepreneurship and building lasting products. When I was first trying to build Flyte, we created our first version of the software. It barely worked for all scenarios. Some users were not satisfied and did not believe in the software. But there were many who still believed in the potential. This gave me the motivation to keep going and to eventually build a company to support this passion. The problem is extremely hard; even today I sometimes lose sleep when I think about the various unsolved problems. But a focus on delivering exceptional user experience and constant innovation drives me and keeps me going. I also learned that when you make the end customer of your product happy, the product will succeed.
Spiffy: Can’t disagree with you there, Ketan! Now, what is something you’ve unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Ketan: Having ideas is easy, explaining and working on the ideas is hard. My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter has shown how passion, hard work, and persistence can solve any problem. When she was 20 months old, she fractured her leg. At that time, she was getting potty trained. But even with the fractured foot she continued with her journey and got trained in a week. Also, after this incident, she was afraid of jumping for two months, but she started taking small jumps, then bigger and bigger, and now I have almost forgotten that only six months ago, she had a fractured foot.
Spiffy: Wow, more power to her! Before we wrap this up, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Ketan: Following your dreams and passions is important. Some days will be hard some days and some days will be very easy. It is important to maintain your composure and show up everyday.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Ketan—it’s been an honor!
Ketan Umare is the CEO and co-founder at Union.ai. Previously he had multiple Senior Lead roles at Lyft, Oracle, and Amazon ranging from Cloud, Distributed storage, Mapping (map making), and machine-learning systems. He is passionate about building software that makes developer and other engineers’ lives easier and provides simplified access to large-scale systems. Besides software, he is a proud father, husband, and enjoys traveling and outdoor activities.(First published on the Ladderworks website on April 27, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy’s Corner here.
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