As we all know, venture capital has all but disappeared for semiconductor companies. Do semiconductor startups still exist and where do they come from? I ask these questions quite frequently but bloggable answers are hard to come by. When I asked Mike Gianfagna of eSilicon during ISSCC he reminded me of an old new source of emerging technology companies.
eSilicon has been working with a growing community of University researchers to address their multi-project wafer service (MPW) needs with theirSTAR online platform. It seems like the innovation trail for semiconductor companies now starts with University research, not elevator pitches on Sand Hill Road.
Here are some interesting examples that I found:
Ambiq Micro was spun out from the University of Michigan
Ambiq Micro developed a patented Subthreshold Power Optimized Technology (SPOT™) platform that dramatically reduces the amount of power consumed by semiconductors. By applying SPOT, Ambiq produces the world’s lowest power real-time clock (RTC) and microcontroller (MCU), Apollo. Through the use of its pioneering ultra-low power technology, Ambiq is helping innovative companies around the world to develop differentiated solutions that reduce or eliminate the need for batteries, lower overall system power, and maximize industrial design flexibility.
Isocline was also spun out of the University of Michigan:
Isocline is giving senses and situational understanding to consumer products by dramatically improving their ability to interpret sensors, microphones, and cameras. Moore’s law is stressed and this has limited what new experiences chip companies can bring to consumer products. Isocline addresses this problem by developing a sensory processing method that uses analog techniques for signal processing and neural networks. What normally takes thousands of transistors can be done with dozens of transistors. Compared to existing chips, they get a 10-100x improvement across the board for performance, cost, and battery life.
Cubeworks was also spun out of the University of Michigan
CubeWorks was founded in 2013 to make the next-generation millimeter-scale computing available today. The company’s origins come from the Michigan Micro Mote (M3) initiative, a project from the University of Michigan seeking to push the frontiers of computing.
Seamless Devices was spun out of Columbia University:
Analog designers are faced with the challenges of designing higher-performance analog interfaces at lower supply voltages. Seamless Devices’ Switched-Mode Operational Amplifier (SMOA) provides a new class of feedback amplifiers, and addresses these issues through the application of patented switched-mode signal processing algorithms. Developed at Columbia University’s Integrated Systems laboratory, Seamless’ SMOA technology will help designers to achieve higher performance with the same power, or make the tradeoff to lower power while maintaining current performance levels, even as new process nodes continue to reduce supply voltages.
Ferric Semi was also spun out of Columbia University
Ferric is commercializing innovative DC-DC power converter chips and circuit IP based on patented thin-film power inductors for customers in both mobile and cloud computing. Ferric’s proprietary technology can be applied across a broad spectrum of power electronics ranging from full scale servers to the chip level.
Lion Semi was co-founded by Prof Le while he was at UC Berkeley
Lion is a fabless semiconductor startup designing power management ICs (PMICs) for mobile devices. Unlike today’s PMICs that require many large PCB inductors, they created a PMIC with zero PCB components and very small footprint. They are working on a patent-protected, revolutionary PMIC design that is unlike any solution available.
To me this is VERY encouraging. While the VC community is raising herds of unicorns for slaughter, semiconductor professionals are going about the business of bringing world changing technology to the masses. In parallel to the University born fabless semiconductor companies, I predict that the tens of thousands of semiconductor professionals negatively affected by the continuing industry consolidation will also be looking for MPWs in the not so distant future, absolutely.