SAN JOSE, Calif. – The hard-scrabble struggles of a startup are the challenges that energize Sir Robin Saxby. The retired co-founder of ARM Ltd. is back in the startup world, sharing lessons learned as he picks up a lifetime achievement award this week from the Global Semiconductor Alliance.
“Typically I am doing a little bit of investing, but I am really driven by the incubation [of small companies] and the idea of [emerging] technologies,” said Saxby in a telephone interview with EE Times from his home in England.
“As a company becomes more successful that means more quarterly earnings statements and responsibilities and so on, but for me personally it’s the incubation I love,” he said.
Saxby is currently working with a handful of small companies including Plessey Semiconductors, a veteran U.K. chip maker and the first ARM licensee. Plessey recently completed a management buy out to remake itself as a supplier of gallium nitride process technology for sensors.
He is also involved with Sontia (Sheffield, U.K.), a startup that licenses phase-shifting DSP audio software. In addition, he works with Ideaworks (London), a software development startup.
“These companies are like ARM was years ago--mean and lean, but they have a little cash,” he said.
“It’s good to be in touch with the kids,” said Saxby who turned 65 this
year. “I tell them, I did this and so can you—you need to encourage
people not to give up."
Since hardware is capex intensive compared to a doughnut shop coupon app, hardware will linger behind the needs.
Feature pull app
"Engineers wishlist" to prioritise the hardware needed for the next gen products and features.
Worth investing in?
Bill Tsai once laid out the math very clearly for me.
VCs can spend a few tens of millions on a chip startup and hope it pays off more than $100M at exit. Or they can invest a few single-digit millions in a Web 2.0 startup and have a shot at a billion.
VCs aren't interested in projects that span more that 4 years, but with the complexity of semi industry at this point you hardly can find any semi start-up that can bring ROI in that time frame.
Software and apps could be quite complex too, but the turnaround time is much faster, especially with the app store infrastructure in place.
I'm still not sure, however, how companies that write software and apps manage to pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars in VC funding for what is basically slideware, while engineers with ACTUAL products have to fight for every dollar. The semi space does require more capex, but that's because it produces real things....
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.