Zapata Computing, the quantum software company spun out from Harvard in 2017, yesterday announced plans to go public and reposition itself as a provider of industrial generative AI software. This is a marked departure from its early aspirations of delivering quantum advantage on current NISQ devices, but it is in keeping with fundamental strengths in quantum-inspired AI software approaches that the company possesses.
The new company, Zapata AI, will go public via the so-called SPAC route. Here’s more from yesterday’s announcement: “Andretti Acquisition Corp. (NYSE: WNNR), a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company, announced today that they have entered into a definitive business combination agreement that will result in Zapata AI becoming a U.S. publicly listed company. Upon closing of the transaction, the combined company is expected to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the new ticker symbol “ZPTA.”
The boards of directors of each of Zapata and Andretti Acquisition have approved the transaction, which is expected to close in the first quarter of 2024. Other quantum companies – D-Wave, IonQ, Rigetti – have also gone public via SPACs with varying results—two briefly faced delisting. The big challenge hasn’t so much been the pace of quantum progress but the stretching time-to-payoff.
Christopher Savoie, CEO of Zapata AI, said in the official announcement, “Our engineers and scientists have spent years building, testing, and refining our proprietary software to put Zapata AI—and our customers—at the forefront of the generative AI revolution. We believe generative AI is shaping a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and the capital and relationships afforded through this business combination will only strengthen our market position. We are participating in an enormous total addressable market where we have the potential to create disproportionate value for our customers and our investors.”
Quantum watchers suggest many young quantum software specialists are likely reassessing business plans. While quantum computing advances have been steady, demand has focused on POC and exploratory projects. Current NISQ – near-term intermediate scale quantum – devices are still too error-prone for use in most production environments, and this is extending expected timelines for quantum payoff. Meanwhile, generative AI has taken off following ChatGPT’s success, prompting some quantum software specialists to pivot or expand their strategies.
“The initial hype that surrounded quantum computing resulted in a flood of investments even though the technology was still in the early stages of development. While quantum computing software will be necessary for running quantum computing applications, the promises made by some software vendors early on were perhaps too early. However, because generative AI can be used for similar use cases, it may be possible for organizations to leverage some of these applications now without having to wait for quantum to scale,” said Heather West, research manager within IDC’s Enterprise Infrastructure Practice and lead on quantum computing.
Here are a few financial details of the deal as discussed during the announcement call yesterday:
“The transaction values Zapata at an implied pre-money equity value of $200 million, with existing Zapata shareholders set to roll over 100% of their equity into the combined entity, or 20.0 million shares at a price of $10.00. Andretti Acquisition Corp.’s sponsors and certain investors that own or have the right to receive founder shares will own a combined 5.8 million shares, or an implied value of approximately $58 million. Andretti Acquisition Corp.’s public shareholders currently hold approximately 7.9 million shares, all of which are subject to redemption. The pro forma equity value of the combined company (inclusive of the remaining cash in trust at Andretti Acquisition Corp. after redemptions) is expected to be between $281 million and $365 million, depending on the level of redemptions.”
Zapata has been an active developer of IP and early products and says it had “nearly twice as many international patent application filings as Meta or Google last year and over 100 global patents and patent applications covering various algorithms, use cases and supporting software and hardware.”
The company’s current product offerings include Zapata AI Prose, a large language model generative AI solution, and Zapata AI Sense, which generates new analytics solutions to complex industry problems. These industrial solutions, which uniquely process both text and numbers, run on Zapata AI’s full-stack Quantum AI software platform, Orquestra, “enabling Zapata to train and deliver AI models within customers’ hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments, including Microsoft Azure, AWS, and others.”
Zapata AI’s plan is to provide enterprise-ready AI solutions and tools across a wide variety of industries, including life sciences, finance, chemicals, automotive, government/defense, aerospace and energy. The early emphasis is on creating custom models for industrial use cases, which Zapata AI says differ from consumer-grade LLM in term of required accuracy and security.
During the call, held jointly with Andretti, Savoie said, “We have developed a suite of custom, industrial generative AI solutions that can harness the power of language and numerical models for critical, sensitive industrial grade applications. Our solutions are fine-tuned for our customers’ domain-specific problems.”
Perhaps with a nod to the difficulty of attaining near-term success in the still nascent quantum computing market, he added, “Our technology is derived from math-inspired quantum physics. The hard part is turning that discipline of physics into useful technology. Fortunately, our work in this area has many transferable and positive implications for generative AI. Being experts at quantum math is one of the surprise differentiators. It allows us to enhance key desirable qualities of generative models. Namely, quantum statistics can enhance generative models’ ability to generalize or extrapolate missing information, generate new, high-quality information, as well as their ability to generate a more varied range of solutions.”
Except for acknowledging its technical expertise in quantum-inspired software, there wasn’t any substantive discussion of Zapata’s ongoing strategy in the quantum computing arena. Like other quantum software specialists, Zapata had been growing its emphasis on hybrid classical-quantum solutions for some time, as well as its emphasis on all things AI.
Indeed, generative AI is generating gold rush aspirations from all quarters.
While the link with Andretti (of motorsport fame) may seem a bit unusual, the two companies have been collaborating for quite a while, exploring the use of Orquestra and other tools for analytics in connection with Andretti racing.
In the official announcement, Michael Andretti, Co-CEO of Andretti Acquisition Corp., said, “Zapata AI’s Industrial Generative AI solutions have demonstrated their applicability helping enterprises across a range of industries solve complex problems and make better business decisions – we have experienced this firsthand in the AI-driven race strategy solutions and advanced analytics capabilities they are delivering to Andretti Autosport. …[B]ased on our understanding of its vast capabilities, compelling go-to-market strategy, and ambitious growth plan, we believe there is tremendous enterprise revenue opportunity.”
Time will tell.