The ability to bring together large amounts of data fast to solve complex problems is essential for many businesses, but Ryan Robinson is looking beyond normal business applications to help find a cure for COVID-19.
The founder and CEO of Conduit, Robinson provides hybrid cloud computing models and solutions to help financial administrators make better investment decisions.
He hopes to use data against the disease. Initially, Conduit was focused on blockchain and making access to computing power cheaper. Probably none of the work Robinson is doing today would have happened if he hadn’t walked away from a $3 million investment.
With three degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Robinson was the first person in the world to earn a degree in quantum engineering. He believes his understanding of quantum computing, the ability to solve multiple calculations at once with a computer, can be useful for quickly ending deaths related to COVID-19.
Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object’s state before it is measured – instead of just 1s or 0s – which means they have the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.Science Alert
Conduit doesn’t own the physical hardware but puts together a specific path for its clients to get them the computing power they need to run risk analysis and models.
“We are attempting to apply the same techniques and technology we apply for other industries to model the next hotspot for the virus, how it might evolve, and how it forms,” Robinson told Moguldom. “If we could disrupt how it forms with a treatment, if you got it, you would hopefully not die from it.”
Robinson shared with Moguldom what made him walk away from an investment, what it cost him, and his passion for finding a cure for COVID-19.
Moguldom: Why did you start Conduit?
Ryan Robinson: One day I was listening to Eric Lander, the founder of the Human Genome Project, discuss how long it took to do the number crunching for science, and by the time you answer one question, another pops up. He spoke about the rise of big data and the computing power it needs. This intrigued me and I started daydreaming in the class about it.
Around the same time, I was in a fraternity. A brother was talking about this crazy thing called crypto and the technology behind it. It sounded cool and I wanted to try and understand it. Then came the Bitcoin Project where Christian Catalini and some computer science majors distributed $100 in bitcoin to thousands of students at MIT as an experiment. I was one of the students who cashed it out, but I wanted to understand more about the ledger, the math, science, and technology of it all.
That summer, I went back to my grandmother’s house and read one of my notebooks from when I was 12 years old. I had an idea to connect all these computers to do some cool stuff. So Conduit was kind of a culmination of daydreaming in biology class, plus, hearing more about blockchain.
I have lectured on blockchain from MIT to Carnegie Hall. I love what crypto stands for and initially, Conduit was focused on blockchain and making access to the computing power cheaper. But it did not make sense for us technologically speaking. I think people try to inject blockchain where it is not needed. We made a Conduit version of blockchain, but it was not as robust and simple as we wanted it to be nor financially viable for us to focus on. We have since pivoted to other areas of innovative technology and fast cloud computing processes.
Moguldom: You cashed out your Bitcoin. Six years later, do you wish you had kept it?
Ryan Robinson: Back then, there were no altcoins or exchanges. You basically could not buy anything with it. Of course, it would be nice to have it today.
Moguldom: You mentioned changing course from when you first launched Conduit. Originally you were focused on blockchain. What is it that you do today and who are your current clients?
Ryan Robinson: We are currently focused on finance, biotech, and supply chain. We have developed an AI tensor network type of model that can speed up something that could take two weeks of running to two hours. We are talking approximately 100 times increased speed and reduction in processing time. We do collective computing where we take computers from anywhere and everywhere to give us more dexterity in terms of privacy, security, and distribution to quickly solve answer modeling questions.
Like an Uber or Airbnb type of model, where they don’t own the taxis or real estate, we don’t own the physical hardware, but we put together a specific path to get you the computing power you need to run risk analysis and models.
We work with people who have a lot of data and want to quickly get results from simulation models. We work with some major companies now to direct this computing power to help them with their specific problems. Our clients are focused on risk management.
For instance, in finance, they have algorithms to look at how stocks have performed and how they might move in the future and the risk side of it. Since the 2008 recession, the government requires all financial administrators to conduct risk assessments. However, right now, with Logan Thrasher Collins (lead scientist at Conduit) and other bio researchers and scientists, we are helping out with COVID-19.
We are attempting to apply the same techniques and technology we apply for other industries to model the next hotspot for the virus, how it might evolve, and how it forms. If we could disrupt how it forms with a treatment, if you got it, you would hopefully not die from it. A lot of the deaths from COVID-19 do not come from the virus, but your body attacking itself — what is called cytokinesis. What is cool about what we are doing is focusing on treatments, while many others are looking at vaccines. We want to focus on helping those who have the disease and not those who do not. Many articles are saying the vaccine is 18 months out, but in reality, they have been testing the vaccine and it has not been working out for them. We are looking at a solution.
Moguldom: With the computing you are doing on COVID-19 and constantly taking in all of the new information, do you think a cure could come sooner than 18 months?
Ryan Robinson: I do not want people coming knocking on my door saying, “Why isn’t this ready Ryan?” But I can say instead of years, it could be months.
Moguldom: You are the first person in the world to earn a quantum engineering degree. You are young, black, and a graduate from MIT with three degrees. Do you find yourself being challenged on your knowledge and value in this space?
Ryan Robinson: Absolutely. This comes with it. I find that at the end of the day if someone just does not want to believe you, they will find any reason to not believe you. I found people who did not believe in me because I went to MIT. They say I will not be good at business because I went to a nerdy school. They do not realize we have one of the best business schools in the world.
We had an investor who wanted us to violate securities laws. It was as though he did not think I knew it was against the law and would be OK with it. Doing what he wanted would have put me and my team members on the line. I told him I was not going to sell myself, my character and soul for this risk, or the money. He told me, “I will never invest in another black entrepreneur ever again” and pretty much sent me an “f- you” rap.
With the end of that relationship, I realized even if someone is waving the banner of allyship, you still have to look to see if the person is legitimate and has character. But in terms of being questioned on knowledge, because quantum theory is so theoretical, the fact I’m so young and have this new degree, many look at this as being a new field so they understand my age and experience. I think if people are willing to get to know me and learn about me, they do not have a problem with me.
Moguldom: How much money have you raised for your company? Since losing the relationship with that investor, are you looking to raise again?
Ryan Robinson: We’ve raised over $3 million with the investor I was talking about in early 2018 when we focused on crypto and blockchain. It came with too many strings attached and wanting us to break laws. At that time, we had 50-to-60 people on the team. The team was very encouraging when we had to leave the deal alone. They saw what was going to get them in trouble and supported the decision to disconnect with the investor.
Now we are down to a small team. We had people offer us an investment but now we want to continue to build up the company. Kind of like with dating, they say you have to love yourself first. That is where we are at now, focused on building.
Moguldom: Having pivoted and even spoken to others about creating a startup, what is one piece of advice you would give our readers?
Ryan Robinson: You have to pursue this out of love. And when I say love, I would say reference Corinthians 13:1. Because you’ve got to be patient with yourself, your team and the process. You have to pay your dues and treat your team right. If you do your team dirty, you will not last long. You have to apply love to every area of what you do. Whatever percentage is not love, whether you get some form of success or not, will come back to bite you. I say love again because it seems so hard.
My advisors say they are impressed with me because I could be at a traditional job making $500,000 a year instead of being a startup founder. I have a genuine love for people and helping people and impacting people. If you pursue love from the bottom of your heart, it will always work out in some way or another.