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Unoceros Founder Devin Elliot

Smartphones are everywhere. The number of worldwide smartphone users is expected to surpass 2 billion in 2016. Even now it’s hard to step into an elevator or coffee shop without hearing the familiar jingle of an iPhone alert. That is a massive and powerful network of largely unharnessed computing power.

Enter Unoceros. The Seattle startup has developed a free app that lets developers and researchers access thousands of mobile phones for projects that require enormous computer infrastructure.

“Unoceros’ main goal is to make massively parallel computing available to anyone who wants to use it,” said founder Devin Elliot. “Our model is two part: We’re creating the world’s largest supercomputer out of the idle cycles on mobile devices through a consumer app that device users download, and simultaneously offering the power to developers and data scientists who want to use it.”

The app is only accessible when users’ phones are charging and connected to WiFi — and their data remains private. Users are rewarded for offering up their smartphone computing power with gift cards and products.

“It’s far more eco-friendly than traditional methods of high performance computing,” said Elliot. “It’s more user-friendly, because it can be used by anyone who can write some code and use an API.”

Watch him describe Unoceros on stage at LAUNCH Festival 2015:

We caught up with Elliot for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We use the aggregated computing power of mobile phones to help scientists and developers solve ridiculously complex problems.”

Inspiration hit us when: “I worked for a weather tech company where we used historical weather data sets — 73 years worth — to analyze each day’s weather against our proprietary catalog. My company would spend $10K just to do a single run. But, to optimize our data, we needed to do multiple runs, which gets expensive very quickly, especially for a startup. I decided this was a stupid problem to have, and found a better way to do it.”

Logo_2000VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Unoceros raised a small round of VC and angel funding in January of 2015, and is currently raising a round of VC funding.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Even better than In-N-Out’s.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Time will tell…”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Not being prepared for publicity. We knowingly presented our company to thousands of people at Launch Festival in March, and for some strange reason did not anticipate a great increase in the number of users we had.

This was great, but we weren’t really ready to have so many people using our app, and the amount of support we had to provide was a huge use of our time where it probably could have been better spent had we kept the app as a closed beta for awhile longer.”

Unoceros-stageWould you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Elon Musk, because we’re pretty sure he’s really Iron Man.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “We’re a distributed team, which makes this one a little bit tricky. We have, however, taken our general channel on Slack to the furthest reaches of sarcasm and beyond.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Right now, engineers with experience with Java, system architecture, and distributed computing systems.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Never give up.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the companies participating in the 9Mile Labs incubator spring cohort. 

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