Untether AI names Intel veteran Chris Walker as its new CEO

Chris Walker Untether AI CEO
AI chip startup also adds ex-Google, Nvidia exec Amir Salek to board.

Toronto-based artificial intelligence (AI) semiconductor startup Untether AI has made some leadership changes, bringing on a new CEO and board director.

Intel-backed Untether AI has appointed former Intel leader and Untether AI president Chris Walker as CEO. Walker replaces Arun Iyengar, who has led Untether AI for most of its existence and will continue to support the AI chip firm during the transition. Untether AI has also added Google and Nvidia alum Amir Salek as a board director and senior technical advisor. 

Untether AI announced both of these moves on January 4, sharing little detail regarding the rationale for the CEO change beyond noting that it comes as the company “enters a new phase of growth.” In a statement, Iyengar said, “I’m gratified by Untether AI’s accomplishments over the past five years,” adding that the firm has now “put in place a team ready to take the company to its next level of growth and success.”

Walker told BetaKit that as Untether AI gears up to bring its next-generation tech to market, “now was the time to make a transition.”

Walker told BetaKit that as Untether AI gears up to bring its next-generation technology to market, “now was the time to make a transition.” He declined to disclose whether Iyengar stepped down voluntarily or the CEO change was a board decision. BetaKit has reached out to Iyengar for additional comment.

The appointments come at a time when many companies are racing to adopt AI but struggling to access the necessary hardware amid chip shortages.

Untether AI was founded in 2018 by Martin Snelgrove, Darrick Wiebe, and Raymond Chik with the goal of developing chips designed to help AI workloads “run faster and cooler.” Iyengar became Untether AI’s CEO in September 2019. Today, the startup offers “energy-centric AI inference acceleration from the edge to the cloud.” 

To date, Untether AI has raised more than $200 million CAD ($152 million USD) in funding from a group that includes Intel, Tracker Capital, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Radical Ventures.

Walker credited Iyengar’s “unwavering commitment” to leading Untether AI over the last four and a half years, noting that he steered the startup’s growth and helped it land an oversubscribed $125-million USD funding round from “multiple top-tier investors.”

“His deep technical knowledge was pivotal in the launch and shipping of runAI devices, the world’s first at-memory compute device for AI acceleration, and building the second-gen speedAI devices,” said Walker.

RELATED: Google and Nvidia-backed CentML secures $37 million CAD to help companies deploy AI amid chip shortages

For his part, Walker previously spent nearly 30 years working at Intel, most recently as corporate vice president and general manager and leader of the chip giant’s mobile business unit. He joined Untether AI as president last August to spearhead the company’s commercialization efforts.

“Untether AI has been growing at a rapid pace and [Walker] brings unique experience, growing world-leading chip businesses at the highest level,” Iyengar said in a statement at the time. “[Walker’s] experience in business, engineering, and architecture while focused on driving customer results makes him the ideal leader to take on Untether AI’s rapidly expanding commercial demands.” 

Salek is a former senior director of engineering at Nvidia who more recently served as head of silicon for Google Infrastructure and Cloud. He is currently the senior managing director at American alternative investing giant Cerberus Capital Management, where Walker also works as a senior advisor.

According to Walker, Salek brings “unparalleled deep tech experience at Google and Nvidia” to Untether AI. “As seasoned tech executives, we are in a unique position to grow Untether AI.”

RELATED: Intel-backed Untether AI raises $125 million, adds CPPIB, Tracker Capital as investors

Despite the downturn, Walker said that Untether AI has continued to hire and grow. The startup is currently fundraising.

Meanwhile, “the AI boom has been great for business … most importantly it’s bringing attention to the energy efficiency problem that AI presents,” said Walker, who highlighted that data centre energy consumption driven by AI is forecasted to double by 2030. “We are here to solve that problem.”

Untether AI said its next-generation AI inference accelerator is currently in fabrication and is on track to sample during the first half of 2024.

“We see amazing potential for Untether AI to lead in energy-efficient AI inference acceleration utilizing at-memory compute,” said Walker. “Untether AI will continue to focus on pioneering inference acceleration and establishing deep partnerships to make AI happen at the edge and enable more efficient deployment of generative AI in the future.”

UPDATE (01/05/24): This story has been updated to note responses from new Untether AI CEO Chris Walker.

Feature image courtesy Untether AI.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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