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Semicon startups gain wider support

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:semiconductor startup? fabless? IP license?

For the longest time, some semiconductor startups have managed to survive against a backdrop of lack of industry support, while some have failed entirely. But things may soon turn around as two initiatives are gaining steam to deliver the much needed assistance to cash-strapped startups.

What we have now is enlightened self-interest amongst proposer communities on each side of the ocean that see an impact to their own future sales if the supply of fabless chip company startups dries up. We have the Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA) and its Capital Lite Working Group meeting and planning in Silicon Valley and the European Microelectronics Academy (EMA) on the side of the Atlantic.

So what are the chances of success for these groups? What are the differences?

First off it must be mentioned that they both have essentially the same aimsreducing the costs and time to market for fabless startups. They both have similar ideas on how they can help, mainly by getting the various players in the ecosystem to combine to reduce the cost at the early-stage in the hope of getting more successful startups and more sales later on.

But will small IP licensors be willing to forego some revenue in the short-term that could jeopardize their own existence. Similarly the option is there for the EDA companies to provide no- or low-cost tools to startups or for foundries to provide free shuttle runs. If it is such a good idea, why would it need an industry initiative to make it happen?

Wade Giles, VP of operations and program development at GSA, was able to share a list of participants at the series of Capital-Lite Working Group meetings that have taken place in recent months. It's a lengthy and impressive list that gives the impression of some traction.

Also I understand from Giles that the Cap-Lite WG is thinking about some robust equity-for-tools and equity-for-IP funding proposals, as well as trying to wrap its arms around those counter-cyclical semiconductor-friendly VCs.

Meanwhile, EMA is being a bit more coy and nebulous. Apart from Mentor and venture capital firm NESTA, there does not appear to be a lot of support in place yet. That said, the list of the great and the good on its board of directors and steering committee is also impressive.

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