Sandeep Nailwal’s New Venture Sentient Raises $85 Mn To Take On OpenAI, Llama

Sandeep Nailwal’s New Venture Sentient Raises $85 Mn To Take On OpenAI, Llama


Blockchain-based AI startup Sentient, cofounded by Polygon’s Sandeep Nailwal, has raised $85 Mn in seed funding to develop an open-source decentralised AI and AGI

Sentient operates on the Polygon CDK chain and aims to create a transparent and fair AI ecosystem using blockchain technology

While testnet is slated to go live in two months, the startup focuses on the open, monetisable, and loyal (OML) model, rewarding community contributions and claims to be transparent, fair, and decentralised

Cofounded by Polygon’s Sandeep Nailwal, San Francisco-based Sentient has raised $85 Mn in a seed funding round co-led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Pantera Capital, and Framework Ventures. The blockchain-based AI startup also got backing from Robot Ventures, Delphi, Republic, Arrington Capital and few other VCs.

Besides Nailwal, Sentient Foundation counts Pramod Viswanath (Forrest G. Hamrick Professor of Engineering at Princeton University), and Himanshu Tyagi (Professor and Scientist at IISc Bangalore) as cofounders. 

Sensys, an open source AI venture development company is also part of the launch team for the startup which was founded in January 2024. 

Sentient is built on the Polygon CDK chain and aims to develop an open-source decentralised AI and, eventually, AGI. “Sentient is building on Polygon technology, that’s my main reason to support it,” Nailwal said to Inc42.


Speaking to Inc42, cofounder Tyagi said, “The funding will be utilised to scale our engineering team and the platform. Since we are committed to delivering results, it also requires building a supportive ecosystem — the developers’ community. That’s where the funds will be used.”

On the roadmap ahead, Tyagi said that Sentient will enter the testnet phase within the next two months. “Sentient is lean and thin, and we wish to remain so. The current team size is 20, and we will add a few more members,” he added.

How Sentient Differs From OpenAI And Google’s Gemini

There are over 70,000 AI projects listed on platforms like GitHub, GitLab, and OneDev. Most of them seem to be either redundant or replicas of existing AI projects. Why is there a need for another AI project like Sentient?

Nailwal has earlier explained the idea behind Sentient which is to build an open world through blockchain to achieve transparency and fairness, as opposed to a closed world dominated by large companies. He noted that the rapid development of centralised AI and its integration into daily life has brought humanity to a crossroads. 

“We can choose either a closed world controlled by a few closed-source models operated by large enterprises or an open world with open-source models and verifiable reasoning. The latter can only be achieved by using blockchain to make AI more transparent and fair,” he said at an event earlier this year. 

Tyagi stated that the difference lies in Sentient’s approach versus the AI giants such as OpenAI, Google or Meta. Most existing AI projects are either closed-source or semi-closed, with some not disclosing their data or technology. 

For example, Meta’s Llama is only partially open source because it releases model views but not the data used to create those models. Releasing such data would have legal implications due to the unknown contents within large datasets, as seen in cases where datasets contained inappropriate images.

“With Sentient’s open-source architecture, issues like plagiarism and backdoor attacks can be better monitored, similar to smart contracts on blockchain. The code and data need to be open source for better auditing and transparency,” said Tyagi.

Sentient has been developed based on the Open, Monetizable, and Loyal (OML) model, where community members are invited to develop for Sentient and will be rewarded accordingly. Nailwal has previously voiced concerns about developers not being truly rewarded for their work. The intersection of blockchain and AI enables the OML model, which Sentient claims benefits all stakeholders.

When asked about issuing a token to incentivise the community, Tyagi responded, “Eventually, something like that will be done. But monetisation and value distribution are separate points. We need to create powerful, useful AI that stands at par with leading AI technologies. When our AI is used, everyone who contributed will be rewarded through the blockchain protocol, which can take one to one and a half years.”

Crypto+AI: What Does That Mean?

In a statement shared with Inc42, Nailwal said that AI centralisation and its resulting safety issues are the biggest challenges humanity currently faces. Crypto and blockchain are the only ways to counter centralisation; hence, all efforts should be made to make something work on that front, however hard it might be. I have always hoped that the Polygon ecosystem puts its effort into that front.”

While other crypto projects have ventured into the AI space, the idea was to explore AI use cases for a particular crypto. However, Nailwal defines Sentient as a cloud-sourced AI company using blockchain incentives, but fundamentally an AI company.

“Sentient differs by focusing on what crypto can do for AI, creating a decentralised infrastructure that could compete with the likes of Google and AWS. Our long-term goal is to build an AI economy for all, enabled by an open-source ecosystem,” added Tyagi.

He also mentioned the importance of AI agents for blockchain functions and the need to ensure they perform as expected, drawing parallels to privacy and reliability concerns in enterprise AI. Sentient aims to enable a new AI economy where contributors are rewarded fairly, not just using open projects to build resumes for big companies.

Nailwal has set the goal of building an open AGI, which will require significant infrastructure. 

Tyagi noted, “We are taking one step at a time. Our ethos is to have a strong team of experts who came together for this mission. We believe a lot of AI development is happening outside large companies. We start with foundational models and align our efforts with ongoing benchmarks and research. Sentient is a research-first company, continually building and evolving.”

[With inputs from Debarghya Sil]

Update: 8 PM | July 4, 2024

The headquarters of the company has been updated.

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