For most, building a successful startup is a once-in-a-lifetime venture. For Prem Jain, M.S. ’77, it’s become a familiar routine.
Pensando Systems, which he built with three other partners, was acquired in May by AMD, a firm that designs microprocessors for the computer and consumer electronics industries — for $1.9 billion.
“This is my fifth startup that had a positive outcome, but there was one early on that didn’t succeed. I am grateful for that failure because it taught us how to time the market,” said Jain, who is now senior vice president and general manager of the new entity, AMD Pensando. “With Pensando, we are serving a huge need for our cloud vendors.”
Pensando develops edge computing, cloud computing, networking, storage and cloud security services for enterprise customers. When founded in 2017, Pensando was meant to address transitions happening in the industry.
With more customers moving their networks and infrastructure to the cloud, companies like Amazon had begun offering cloud services.
“Our idea was to democratize the cloud,” Jain said. “Our objective was to provide similar or better technologies to the other cloud vendors because they would not be able to develop them themselves. That was the promise.”
A history of innovation
Jain began his first startup when he was director of engineering at David Systems in 1983. When Cisco acquired his employer, Crescendo Communications, in 1993, he moved there — and stayed for 23 years. He and his team were tasked with coming up with innovative startups. Cisco would finance the work and then purchase the businesses when they became successful.
Jain and three Cisco veterans became independent in 2017, focusing on Pensando. Enterprise customers now include Goldman Sachs, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Oracle Cloud.
“I think we differentiate from the competition in that we are about two years ahead of them,” Jain said. “That gives us a huge advantage.”
The UC Davis years
As a graduate student, Jain came to UC Davis from India, drawn to computer science and digital signal processing. He also liked the small-town feel and weather that reminded him of home.
He wrote his master’s thesis on designing with microprocessors and intended to enroll in the Ph.D. program with a goal of becoming a professor. A phone call from BNR changed his course.
“Someone called looking for someone involved in microprocessors when I was sitting in my advisor’s office,” he recalled. “So I went for an interview, got the job and never looked back.”
He recounted some of his experiences in a commencement address on campus in 2017, sharing his story, including coming to the U.S. for graduate school with only $7.
“[My story] does resonate with people in the sense that you go through hardship,” Jain said. “The government didn’t allow me to bring more money at that time. But I also remember, the language barrier was really difficult. And the pace was quite fast, so I had to keep up with that.”
Giving back to UC Davis
Over the years, Jain has remained deeply involved with UC Davis. He is a part of the Chancellor’s Board of Advisors and has served in a similar capacity for the College of Engineering.
In 2020, he and his family provided funding for a new chair of innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering. He received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Cal Aggie Alumni Association in 2021.
“I attribute a lot of my success to UC Davis, as I learned about concepts that provided me with a solid foundation in hardware, software and system design,” he said. “My education definitely gave me a jumpstart in my career.”
He added that the hands-on aspect of his education allowed him to work on wide-ranging projects that he remembers fondly today. He set out to build an electronic tablet for NASA, create a program that would read doctor’s messy handwriting and make another one that would classify what fish ate in Lake Tahoe according to water depth.
He also likes to tell students to continue learning. Since he received his degree, technology has made major advances.
“Technology has changed our world in a tremendous way,” Jain said. “Most of it has been positive although of course there are negative aspects to it as well. I look forward to seeing the technology sector continue to evolve and make a big impact on our society.”