BERKELEY, Calif. — Iran has the engineers and universities to spawn a Silicon Valley in the Middle East, but US sanctions combined with the country's own shortcomings hold back its potential.
That was the conclusion from a conference of more than 500 Iranian high-tech executives and entrepreneurs here. Participants in the Bridge 2014 event said they hope to overcome the hurdles, believing prosperity is the best antidote for a long and painful history of political conflict.
“What is needed is funding universities and advanced R&D to transfer technology in the schools to practical applications,” said Maryam Rofougaran, a senior vice president of engineering at Broadcom, who told the story of her rise from a small town in Iran.
Born in the “beautiful but conservative city” of Isfahan where “career choices for women were quite limited,” she pursued her dreams initially through education. “Form early on, my clear passion and strongest subjects were math and physics,” she said.
Rofougaran became the first woman to conduct research in one of the engineering labs at UCLA. For her Master’s thesis, she developed the first 900 MHz power amp in CMOS. She worked with her brother to create a full CMOS transceiver and formed a startup based on the design that Broadcom bought in 2000.
“Today I am responsible for developing and shipping more than 2 billion wireless chips a year,” she said.
Iran is probably not fertile soil for chip design startups today, she said, responding to an audience question. “We think [innovation] will be through universities at first, given issues with politics, and I would not suggest [chip design] as a startup right way, it would be easier to focus on software.”
Next page: Sanctions and other hurdles