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From idea to industry inside track

Posted: 15 Sep 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:eda? startup? management? investment? ceo?

Bose: A lot of maturity and openness can be picked up between being a good VP of engineering and a good entrepreneur.

The chip design tool chain that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd (TSMC) announced at the recent Design Automation Conference included the usual tightly knit offerings from your choice of Cadence or Synopsys. But Reference Flow 5.0 from the world's largest foundry company also contained tools from three small companies!tools indispensable in meeting the challenges of 90nm chip design. For the boss of one of them, Atrenta Inc., making the cut was a major milestone on a long corporate, technical and personal journey.

The Atrenta tools included in the TSMC flow perform electrical rule checking, power minimization and preparatory work for creating power and voltage islands. They do this by inspection and analysis of the design at an early stage, using the RTL or netlist data. In this regard, they are direct descendants of a tool that launched the company in 1999. The story of its success is one of technical evolution intertwined with an individual, powerful idea: that great riches could be found by scrutinizing RTL code.

For Ajoy Bose, Atrenta's chairman, president and CEO, the road has had many milestones. It began perhaps in India, where a young graduate headed for the United States to get a Ph.D. Or perhaps it really started when that young Ph.D. from the University of Texas received an offer from the revered castle on the hill, Bell Labs in New Jersey.

"I worked at the Labs for 12 years," Bose said. "It was an R&D environment and we were!before the days of synthesis!working on what were then advanced tools."

Along with an increasing understanding of EDA, Bose was getting a new idea. "When Cadence acquired Gateway and started to get into synthesis, they asked me to head up a department. After a while at Cadence, I began to think I'd like to start my own company."

Bose's first company, Duet Technologies, was a design services organization. By 1995, Duet had evolved into Interra Corp., still in the design services business and something of an incubator.

'Serial entrepreneur'

"At that point I became kind of a serial entrepreneur," Bose remarked. "We would be working on a problem and we'd see that there was a more general solution."

For example, a major semiconductor company "wanted a tool that would automatically inspect RTL IP and evaluate its reusability," Bose said. "Those were the days of the Reuse Methodology Manual and the first big excitement about IP reusability."

Interra developed the tool, met the contract and found major customers for the software. "Then a light went on," Bose said. "We realized that we could learn a great deal about the final design by analyzing the RTL, and that this could happen early in the design cycle." Thus an opportunity for a spinout was born, this one to be called Atrenta.

Previously, his startups had been essentially self-funding small ventures. They had wonderful, solid business plans, but they lacked the ultimate good in the eyes of venture investors: leverage.

Bose realized that the idea behind Atrenta wasn't just a point solution to a single problem: It was an entire manifold of problem!solution pairs, all based on the basic concept of RTL code inspection. RTL analysis could yield a lot of data about many characteristics of the final design, from conformance and best practices to electrical correctness, testability, routing congestion and power consumption. It could do all these from a single tool framework, each new capability built on the foundations provided by the last. The tool architecture could be a set of RTL analysis engines that produced data about the design.

Growth opportunity

Bose recognized the corollary to this idea: This was a growth opportunity, not a service business, and it made sense to get venture funding.

Bose found Venrock Associates, one of the oldest venture firms in the U. S. With Venrock taking the lead in the first round, Bose pulled together a board and decided to leave Interra to become the head of Atrenta.

From there things evolved quickly. The Atrenta tool cluster, now called Spyglass, was built so that experienced design teams could put their own rules into it. But by 2001, the jaws of the recession were sinking deep into the soft tissue of design teams everywhere. "Often we would approach a design team in a smaller organization, and there would be no one left but a core of really experienced designers," Bose said.

Those designers didn't have time to stop and build an extensive rules file. But they desperately needed a way to communicate their knowledge and requirements to the contractors and design services teams they had to work with. In response to this need, Atrenta decided to build its own rules files.

That meant compiling best practices offered by existing customers, who proved remarkably open in many cases, Bose said.

The result was a package of analysis tools and rules that a bare-bones design team could use as a means of evaluation and communication with other remote design teams. "They used the tool to convey their experience to external groups--design teams and even IP providers," Bose said. ASIC vendors found they could use the tool in preparation for signoff and to counsel their customers' RTL designers.

Today, Bose has just completed one more round of knocking on doors, gaining $11 million in Series C financing. The round, led by the venture capital arm of Investcorp, brings the total raised to date to more than $27 million.

"There's a lot of maturity and openness to be picked up between being a good VP of engineering and a good entrepreneur," Bose said. "If I have a regret," Bose continued, "it would be that I waited so long to become an entrepreneur. I've tried to teach my kids!you know, you can do this. You don't have to wait 12 years."

- Ron Wilson

EE Times

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