USC Professor’s Crypto Startup Sahara Secures $6M for Innovative AI Trainer Compensation

  • Editor
  • March 6, 2024

In an era where artificial intelligence (AI) and cryptocurrency technologies are rapidly evolving, a groundbreaking initiative has emerged from the heart of Los Angeles, USC Professor’s Crypto Startup Sahara Secures $6M for Innovative AI Trainer Compensation:

Sahara, a decentralized AI network, announced a successful $6 million seed funding round, capturing the attention of tech enthusiasts and investors alike.


Led by the esteemed Polychain Capital, this financial milestone underscores the growing intersection between AI and blockchain technologies. The round also saw contributions from industry giants such as Samsung Next, Matrix Partners, Motherson Group, and Sandeep Nailwal, the co-founder of the Polygon blockchain ecosystem.

At the forefront of  Sahara’s innovative journey is Sean Ren, a distinguished AI researcher and a tenured member of the University of Southern California (USC)’s computer science faculty.

Ren’s vision extends beyond the conventional boundaries of AI development. He aims to establish a platform where workers and businesses are fairly compensated for their invaluable contributions to AI’s growth—knowledge, data, and expertise.

The current landscape of AI development heavily relies on massive datasets and user feedback to train and refine models like ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini. However, the benefits and proceeds from these advancements have traditionally favored corporations, leaving contributors without their fair share of the rewards.

Sahara seeks to disrupt this model by offering a suite of products designed to directly reward the unsung heroes of AI development: the users, data providers, and trainers.

Ren’s initiative reflects a deep understanding of the ethical implications surrounding AI advancements. “Users provide very personalized feedback to AI systems to help them improve,” Ren explained in an interview with CoinDesk. Despite the willingness of individuals to share their data for the betterment of AI tools, the specter of job displacement due to AI’s capabilities looms large. Ren believes that the path to addressing these challenges lies in disruptive technology emerging from grassroots efforts rather than top-down approaches.


Before embarking on the Sahara venture, Ren dedicated seven years to AI research at USC, where he continues to contribute as a tenured faculty member.

His academic pursuits at the Allen Institute for AI and advisory role at Snapchat have enriched his expertise, particularly in the world of natural language processing (NLP) systems.

Alongside Ren, co-founder Tyler Zhou brings a wealth of experience from his time at Binance Labs and his studies at the University of California, Berkeley, further solidifying Sahara’s foundation.

Ren says he doesn’t think today’s AI giants are incentivized to compensate their users. As far as finding a solution to the growing problem of people losing their livelihoods to AI, “I think it has to come from the bottom, with some disruptive technology,” Ren said.


Sahara’s innovative approach to compensating AI trainers sets a new precedent in the tech industry.

Here is what people are saying on the internet:

By aligning the interests of AI development with ethical compensation models, the startup not only advances technological progress but also fosters a fairer ecosystem for all stakeholders involved.

As Sahara continues to evolve, its journey represents a significant step towards a more equitable and decentralized future for AI development.

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Dave Andre


Digital marketing enthusiast by day, nature wanderer by dusk. Dave Andre blends two decades of AI and SaaS expertise into impactful strategies for SMEs. His weekends? Lost in books on tech trends and rejuvenating on scenic trails.

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