Transphorm Inc. is that unusual form of VCbacked startup that has raised money to invest in semiconductor manufacturing, including construction of a wafer fab in California.
Transphorm, which specializes in gallium nitride power ICs, boasts a blue chip list of investors, including Foundation Capital, Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Lux Capital. The startup has been cruising along in stealth mode since its formation in 2007. Over the past three or so years, it has raised $38 million. A pilot line at its headquarters, in Goleta, Calif., is up and running, producing GaN-based power semiconductors and modules, and the startup is ramping up for volume production.
In a June filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Transphorm disclosed an additional, $30 million round. The chip maker is in great shape financially, since a power fab is much less expensive than a leading-edge digital CMOS fab.
Transphorm is among a group of companies seeking to leverage the inherent efficiency of GaN and its capability for highspeed switching to reduce energy loses in such gear as switch-mode power supplies, variable-frequency motor drives and solar inverters. Others pursuing the GaN power market include startup Efficient Power Conversion and established power IC provider International Rectifier.
The difference between Transphorm and its competitors, according to Carl Blake, vice president of marketing, is that Transphorm has taken a systems approach in seeking to create a high-voltage process
capability that could work at breakdown voltages of 600 volts while scaling to 1,000 V. The alternative, says Blake, was to take GaN manufacturing processes essentially created for RF applications at relatively
low voltages, then try to extend the voltage regime to 200 to 300 V.
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