In a nondescript downtown data center, a St. Louis startup has quietly built one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.
Soon, SimpleRose expects to start using the machine to solve complex business problems that require trillions or quadrillions of calculations. SimpleRose calls itself an optimization platform, meaning it can analyze boatloads of data and produce an optimal solution: the right price for a complex mortgage security, the fastest set of delivery routes, the most robust supply chain.
“We do not predict, we do not estimate,” explained Chief Executive Carl Ledbetter. “We can literally calculate the best possible set of solutions.”
It provides those answers fast. When Southwest Airlines suffered a systemwide meltdown in December, its aging computers spent four days figuring out how to redeploy planes and crews to resume normal operations. Ledbetter claims SimpleRose could have solved the problem in 15 minutes.
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The company has been in St. Louis since 2018 but operated in stealth mode until recently, keeping a low profile while it perfected its optimization algorithm. Ledbetter said it now has a “commercial-ready product” and expects to sign customers soon, starting with the financial services industry.
“By doing better calculations faster than anyone else can do, we think the market is wide open,” he said.
SimpleRose has 28 employees, about two-thirds of them at its Olive Street headquarters. It has raised $47.3 million in capital, including a $23 million round that closed last month.
Its St. Louis investors include Cultivation Capital and Lightchain Capital, the family office of Scottrade founder Rodger Riney. SimpleRose also has key relationships with St. Louis companies: World Wide Technology assembled its computer hardware at a Netrality data center on Tucker Boulevard, and Stifel Bank helped it quickly move accounts after Silicon Valley Bank failed.
None of those, however, is the real reason why SimpleRose is here. “Blame him,” Ledbetter said, pointing to his son, Noah, the company’s principal high performance computing engineer, who previously was a lecturer in biomedical engineering at Washington University. “My wife said St. Louis was attractive because we have two grandchildren here.”
Carl Ledbetter has been an executive at several technology companies, including AT&T and supercomputing pioneer Control Data. He also spent 16 years with Pelion Venture Partners in Salt Lake City and is a director of Cloudflare, a publicly traded cybersecurity company.
Brian Matthews, general partner at Cultivation Capital, said his firm’s initial investment in SimpleRose was largely a bet on Ledbetter.
“He is a special individual, an interesting mix of mathematician, successful businessman and venture capitalist,” Matthews said. “The technology also was amazing. If he could pull it off we saw tremendous opportunity across many industry verticals.”
Most of Cultivation Capital’s investments are in firms that already have customers and revenue, not in pre-revenue companies like SimpleRose. Matthews, though, said he “felt lucky that we were getting a shot” at a company he thinks could achieve unicorn status, or a billion-dollar valuation.
St. Louis should feel fortunate too. SimpleRose holds five patents, and its staff includes five PhDs. It has brought talented people to town, and it has hired talent from schools like Washington University and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
During its five years in stealth mode, SimpleRose existed quietly as one of the region’s highest-potential startups. Soon, it expects to turn that potential into profits.
David Nicklaus is a retired Post-Dispatch columnist who continues to follow the St. Louis business scene. Reach him at email@example.com