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How Kickstarter seeded Adapteva's dev community

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Kickstarter? Adapteva? Epiphany processor? 16-core? A11 Raspberry Pi?

On the 27th of October, chip start-up Adapteva was able to meet its goal of raising $750,000 on Kickstarter to fund a new mask set for its Epiphany processor. The start-up was able to snag nearly $900,00 after some last minute pledges, while also seeding a developer community of nearly 5,000 potential customers. (See Parallela project aims for open, affordable supercomputing.)

"We went from having ten-ish customers to thousands overnight, so it's pretty exciting," said Andreas Olofsson, chief executive of Adapteva. "They could become real design wins or maybe people will write open source parallel code for our platform and that will be a big win as well," he said.

Seven people pledged $10,000 to get early access in December to Adapteva's $99 reference board. It includes a 16-core Epiphany and a Xilinx Zinq FPGA with an embedded dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processor. (See The myth of the $100M ASIC.)

Andreas Olofsson

Andreas Olofsson

Adapteva expects to ship out nearly 6,000 of the boards to backers, most of them in May. That's when the start-up expects to have silicon based on a new mask that the Kickstarter program was geared to fund.

"I wish I would have done this a long time ago," Olofsson added. "The potential of getting that many developers to sign up to a new platform is impressiveeven Analog Devices and TI don't get that," said Olofsson, who left a job at Analog Devices to start Adapteva in 2008.

"We had been fighting the market a year-and-a-half, and it was a frustrating trying to sell without a developer community because people kept asking us to show them apps and how this platform will work," he added.

Kickstarter is a good tool to fund production, but there's still a need for venture or angel capital to supply seed money for a chip start-up, Olofsson said.

"There's a place for Kickstarter, having your customers fund your tape out," he said. "We were always an open platform and appealed to a developer community so it works well for us," he said.

However, "an initial shuttle holds too much risk, it's not fair to backers because there's a lot of risk in chip design," he said. "For Kickstarter you have to have a prototype, and we had them so it was pretty low risk," he added.

Riding the open source wave
The Kickstarter project was no slam dunk. After the first few days, interest trailed off. Olofsson rallied bloggersincluding EE Times' Clive Maxfield, who posted three articles on the effort.

In desperation, Olofsson put the Epiphany SDK, data sheets and product manuals online, something he only intended to do if the start-up hit its funding goal.

"There was a huge peak once we did that," he said. "People read the hundreds of pages and were answering questions online for us without our help, but we couldn't use NDAs anymore or protect ourselves against our semiconductor competitors," he added.

Adapteva also posted a video of the board running desktop apps on its dual-core A9. That may have been enough to get many engineers to pitch in $99.

"People may have thought even if Epiphany isn't turned on, at least they'd get a $99 desktop that's definitely an upgrade from the A11 Raspberry Pi," he said.

A little hype may have helped, too. In its press release, Adapteva pitched the project as a chance to buy a $200 supercomputer, referring to a $199 board based on its 64-core chip. "That was borderline hype, I admit, but the project is all about parallel programming and if you string together enough of these boards it's a legit supercomputer," he said. (See Adapteva multi-core processor integrates SWARM programming.)

Looking down the road, Olofsson hopes to add to Epiphany more memory, double-precision floating point support and more features. He also hopes to strike relationships with distributors to help nurture his new community.

But in the meantime, the start-up has its hands full getting thousands of developer's kits out the door. "For the coming six months we're full up executing on this project," he said.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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