Exotanium’s average potential customer spends $750,000 per year on cloud computing to companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. The startup anticipates its technology, called X-Containers, can reduce that cost by one third by optimizing cloud computing resources.
We each have dozens of apps installed on our phones and computers, but most of the information that comes up on our screens when we open an application is not stored on the phone itself; rather, it’s stored in the cloud and is retrieved from it when we open the app through one of two ways: application containers or virtual machines running in the cloud. Exotanium’s X-Containers, unique because they are a combination of application containers and virtual machines, are much more secure than the former and faster than the latter. They optimize resources by reducing the number of virtual machines or application containers needed for an app.
Zhiming Shen PhD ’18 developed the technology as the subject of his thesis during his time at Cornell University. Hakim Weatherspoon, associate professor of computer science, and Robbert van Renesse, professor of computer science, were his faculty advisors and the three make up Exotanium’s founding team.
In February 2019, the company was the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award in the amount of $225,000, with a supplemental $25,000 award to expand its customer discovery activities. The team had started the customer discovery process back in April 2018 during an I-Corps short course, which helps university researchers explore the market potential of their work.
“The purpose of the short course is to get scientists who think they know what they’re doing out of their comfort zones to talk to businesses marketing their products on a daily basis. That was our first taste,” said Weatherspoon, Exotanium’s CEO.
As part of the I-Corps experience, the team spoke with 30 potential customers. “We were able to learn that we were wrong about what we initially thought people needed,” said Weatherspoon. “They do need security and performance but their highest priority was cloud spend.” In 2019, Exotanium also participated in the I-Corps Teams National program where the founders completed an additional 100 customer interviews.
With the bulk of its funding award, the company has been able to double in size, from three to six employees. The team hired two engineers, was able to do a tech transfer so that its technology will work with some standard industry interfaces, and made the product compliant with security standards. “Rev Ithaca Startup Works has been invaluable for us,” said Weatherspoon. “Once we won the SBIR award we needed to make hires so they gave us recommendations for HR companies. We also needed a lawyer to set up those initial founding documents—they gave us recommendations for that too.”
Exotanium is a quickly growing, scalable company actively working to obtain seed funding. The startup hopes to double in size again in 2020. It is looking to hire software developers with experience modifying an operating system kernel and containers such as Kubernetes.