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From MIT PhD Student to Machine Learning Entrepreneur: CEO Manasi Vartak (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Apr 4th 2022

Manasi made the journey from a technologist to a founder CEO, raised over $10M in funding, and has built over $5M in revenue with her first startup.
Amazing execution!

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?

Manasi Vartak: I was born in India. I grew up in Pune. I lived there for 18 years and came to the US for undergrad. I was doing well in India, but if you’re from India or other countries in the subcontinent, you need to pick engineering or biology and just do that one thing.

That was very unsatisfying for me. I wanted to have more freedom to make my own path and explore different options. I applied to universities overseas and came to the US for my undergraduate degree.

Sramana Mitra: Where was that?

Manasi Vartak: It was at Worcester Polytech. It’s a very small engineering school in Massachusetts. It has a hands-on project-based curriculum that I was interested in. As an international student, a scholarship goes a long way in picking where you go to college.

Sramana Mitra: I had a similar journey long before you. I was 18 when I came to Smith College for my undergraduate, and very similar to your decision-making. Smith College gave me the biggest scholarship, so I took it.

Manasi Vartak: I applied to Smith College.

Sramana Mitra: I did Computer Science and Economics and went to MIT for grad school.

Manasi Vartak: I did Computer Science and Math at Worcester. I worked for a year and then went back to grad school at MIT.

Sramana Mitra: Do you know Anant Agarwal?

Manasi Vartak: He was the Department Head by the time I was at MIT.

Sramana Mitra: Anant was my advisor for grad school.

Manasi Vartak: I’ve heard great things about him.

Sramana Mitra: What year were you at MIT?

Manasi Vartak: 2011. My PhD was in databases. I did research in undergrad too. I decided to get into the whole big data space.

Sramana Mitra: You were in the PhD program at MIT?

Manasi Vartak: Yes, my primary advisor was Sam Madden who leads the database group. I also ended up working with Mike Stonebreaker who’s, essentially, the godfather of databases. I ended up doing interdisciplinary work between ML and databases. What are the next sets of data systems that will enable scalable machine learning?

Sramana Mitra: Did you finish your PhD?

Manasi Vartak: I did. The company I run, Verta, is based on my PhD thesis. We built a system called ModelDB. That was a new way to manage ML models, pretty much how database systems manage database models. I picked up principles from databases and applied them to ML. I built ModelDB as an open-source system and got a lot of adoption including financial services companies.

Sramana Mitra: While you were doing your PhD and you were working with these corporate partners, how deeply did you explore what those use cases were?

Manasi Vartak: I explored them deeply enough for research. When you’re doing research, people are interested in open-ended next-generation problems. When you go to startups, people want to solve their problems today. I got a good sense of use cases but understanding customer pain points is quite different.

This segment is part 1 in the series : From MIT PhD Student to Machine Learning Entrepreneur: CEO Manasi Vartak
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