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Silvaco 30 Years Ago

Silvaco 30 Years Ago
by Paul McLellan on 07-31-2015 at 7:00 am

 It’s Silvaco’s 30 year anniversary. You may already know the dry official story of the early days:

  • Founded in 1984 by Dr Ivan Pesic
  • In 1984 the initial product, Utmost, quickly became the industry standard for parameter extraction, device characterization and modeling.
  • In 1985 Silvaco entered the SPICE circuit simulation market with SmartSpice.
  • In 1987 Silvaco entered into the Technology Computer Aided Design (TCAD) market. By 1992 Silvaco became the dominant TCAD supplier with the Athena process simulator and Atlas device simulator.

I decided to get a bit more color so I sat down with Misha Temkin to find out how he joined Silvaco and what it was like in the early days nearly 30 years ago. He is an atomic physicist and did his PhD in Russia (actually still USSR) on ion implantation, modeling and atomic interaction. He published his work in a book in Russian and in 1986 it was translated into English which got him noticed.

Misha moved to the US in 1988 as a Jewish regugee and set about trying to find a job. Then in one of those alignment of the planets he saw an ad in the San Jose Mercury wanting an engineer knowledgeable in process simulation and SUPREM. It didn’t say who the company was. He sent his resume but heard nothing for 6 weeks until one morning, at 6am, he gets a call. It was Ivan, the founder of Silvaco. “I want you to work for me,” he said. He started work that Monday without even having negotiated a salary. He only found out what he was being paid when he got his first paycheck. He was the first TCAD person at Silvaco. The whole company was Ivan and about 8 or 9 engineers.

Silvaco actually started by doing parameter extraction for SPICE with Utmost (still sold today). Ivan’s previous employer had been HP who sold parameter extraction along with their equipment. But the other equipment companies had nothing similar and smaller companies could not afford HP. Ivan sold the product himself, flying all over the world. But he realized it was too small a market on its own and decided that TCAD would be a good complement.

 In those days DARPA and Intel and some other industrial partners were funding TCAD work at Stanford that ended up being SUPREM and being licensed by TMA (who were acquired by Avant! and now form the heart of Synopsys’ TCAD offering). Ivan wanted to license it. But Stanford wouldn’t license it unless Silvaco had true expertise. After all, it was student code with inadequate documentation, only batch mode, no graphics. That was why Ivan hired Misha. “Here’s a guy, he did it all before but in Russia.” Eventually they got a license and started selling. In 1989, the first year, they sold 5 or 6 copies and Misha’s group grew to 5 or 6 people.

Ivan had a good nose for smart people. He could not compete with much larger richer companies to hire people from Stanford but he found people in Russia, Bulgaria, Brits, French, Asians. For 30 years the company has been more or less profitable. The only investment was from the family. As Ivan told Misha one day “we had to sell a couple of houses.” Now the family owns most of the park where Silvaco is based although they only occupy 6 of the 26 buildings.

Ivan liked to sell direct. By 1989 they already had an employee in Japan. They have been direct for a long time in both Korea and Singapore and are likely to soon go direct in China. It has been a wild ride. Silvaco was 8 people when Misha started and is now 180 people. TCAD is mostly here in Santa Clara with the mesh stuff done in the UK.

One memorable event was the SPICE billboard controversy on 101, about the only type of marketing that Ivan liked to undertake. Even CNN came by the office to, basically, complain. But it all helped to put Silvaco on the map.

You probably know the dry version of the sad recent history:

  • In October 2012, after an extensive battle, Dr Pesic succumbed to cancer.

But Silvaco lives on with a new management team. Ownership of Silvaco remains in the Pesic family, with Dr. Pesic’s son, Iliya Pesic as Executive Chairman of the Board, and Dave Dutton as CEO. Misha is still here 26 years later.

30 year anniversary video (2 minutes):

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