Rockport gets co-CEOs and $48 million extra funding

Datacentre networking upstart Rockport Networks has taken in $48 million in new but non-VC funding, and recruited a second CEO to work alongside existing CEO and co-founder Doug Carwardine.

Rockport came out of stealth mode in October, with end-point network cards that incorporate switch functionality, theoretically rendering traditional and current network switches redundant. The new investment was led by Toronto-based Northern Private Capital with participation from current investors. It will accelerate Rockport’s go-to-market plan and expand its sales and marketing efforts.

Marc Sultzbaugh.

Marc Sultzbaugh has been appointed as the co-CEO, and he said: “The switching network in today’s datacentres is fundamentally broken. … We’re applying new thinking to the systemic issues of network congestion and performance that plague advanced computing workloads so that customers can expect more predictable network performance and much greater utilisation of their compute and storage resources.”

Carwardine said “The network market is ripe for change and we’re experiencing tremendous momentum since the launch of our switchless network solution a few short weeks ago. With the addition of Marc and this latest round of funding, we’re building an even deeper bench to work hand-in-hand with our customers and ecosystem partners.”

Rockport has eschewed VC funding, preferring to use founder funding, grants and private investments, that prevent it suffering from any loss of board control to VCs impatient to scale the business quickly for an exit. Its last funding event was in 2019, with $2.9 million debt financing and a $12 million grant. Carwardine tells us “We’ve never taken any venture money. … We started taking institutional money last fall [and] we’ve raised just under 100 million so far,” in total funding. 

Compared to VC funding, “this is a more friendly, flexible patient route. … It can be pretty difficult to operate within the restrictions of some of the timelines that you get forced upon [when] you go [the VC] way.”

Doug Carwardine.

Sultzbaugh actually joined Rockport’s board a year ago after resigning/retiring from Mellanox, where he spent more than 19 years — mainly focussed on sales, and finishing up as SVP for sales and marketing. He started out at Bell Labs back in the ’80s, in semiconductor process engineering. Then he moved over to the business side, telling us he was “part of the team that launched AT&T Microelectronics, which was really selling its semiconductor capability to the open market for the first time.” 

This was followed by a stint at fabless semiconductor company Birchtree in the ’90s, before he joined Mellanox in early 2000. He said Mellanox “was at a very similar stage to where Rockport is today. I had an amazing 20 years around there. I got to experience all the ups and downs of being a disrupter and trying to introduce a new capability into the industry and a successful IPO and then ultimately grew that business into a successful acquisition by Nvidia.” 

Why did Carwardine need a co-CEO? “I’ve been sort of poking at him in the in the chest for six months or so. Can you please help me? And thankfully, he’s agreed to participate.”

Carwardine said there’s “a lot going on as you can imagine financing this and running the business. So Mark has a great skillset that I do not and he’s going to handle the growth. Essentially the business sales and marketing [and] perspective of product management. I’ll take the finance and the R&D component of the business and continue to move that along. I think it’s a very good complement and Mark’s obviously got the skillset from from Mellanox.”

Sultzbaugh concurred. “We felt like that this was the right thing for the company. And … we’re really equal, really balanced, we were involved in all the decisions, but we definitely have our areas of expertise and in so we lead in that way.” 

Rockport now has around 170 employees and its technology is now in use with multiple customers including Frontera, the number one academic supercomputer located at the University of Texas’s Advanced Computing Center, Austin.