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At the launch of Silicon Catalyst’s ChipStart U.K. incubator program in London last week, 12 British chip design startups pitched their technologies and plans to the who’s who of the U.K. semiconductor ecosystem.
The event had a huge air of excitement, with veteran semiconductor industry entrepreneurs and investors, government advisors, academia, and the emerging startups in attendance. The reason for the excitement? The spotlight was back on chip design expertise that some felt was almost forgotten over the last 20 years due to attention from investors and government entities being predominantly on the digital app economy. It’s thought that there are some 200 chip design teams in the U.K.
The U.K. government’s minister for technology, Paul Scully, made a brief appearance at the event, using phrases like, “We want to turbocharge the U.K.’s science and tech economy,” indicating that semiconductor innovation underpins all elements of its semiconductor strategy. His attendance ultimately sent a signal that the government is taking the semiconductor industry seriously and is directing some resource towards it.
In his prepared statement for the event, Scully said, “Semiconductors are the bedrock of our modern economy and an increasingly integral part of our lives.” Referring to the 12 startups chosen for the first cohort of the ChipStart UK incubator, he added, “These firms are building on Britain’s research leadership to open doors to innovation and growth, while designing chips that could truly change the way we live our lives. Whether they’re innovating how we support patients with Parkinson’s or are on the cusp of supercharging how AI is used, these firms are the brightest sparks in the U.K.’s thriving semiconductor industry. This incubator will make sure they have the skills they need to revolutionize the lives of people not only in the U.K., but across the world.”
Highlighting the speed with which the ChipStart U.K. program was approved by the government, Silicon Catalyst CEO Pete Rodriguez quipped that while the U.S. CHIPS Act was announced first, the U.K. was quicker in implementing this aspect of it. You can hear what he and Silicon Catalyst U.K. CEO Sean Redmond had to say in EE Times’ video interview.
ChipStart U.K. is a two-year pilot program backed by £1.3 million (about $1.58 million) of British government funding to provide early-stage companies involved in the design of semiconductors with the technical and commercial help they need to bring new products to market. Silicon Catalyst said it had 27 applications from which it selected 12 for the first cohort for the nine-month support program.
A second cohort will be selected the first round, with the two-year government pilot program supporting the incubator ending in March 2025. The aim of the pilot is to provide the U.K.’s semiconductor industry with a pipeline of new startups that have innovative products, route to market, a foundation for forward growth, and routes to future seed funding.
Companies chosen for the pilot are innovating in a range of areas, including developing chips for brain implants that will address debilitating conditions like Parkinson’s disease; groundbreaking chips that could boost the capability and efficiency of AI; and new ways of reducing vast energy use in data centers across the world, helping to tackle climate change.
Tudor Brown’s three tips for success
A highlight of the day’s event was the fireside chat with Tudor Brown, who was one of the founding members of Arm Holdings, who recounted the early days of Arm. He said that teamwork was a fundamental axis of the company’s success and is demonstrated through how its vast partner network was established.
When asked about his advice to startups, he emphasized the significance of roadmaps. “What lots of startups don’t get is the importance of roadmaps,” Brown said. “At the beginning, the roadmap is very tactical and accurate. But further out in the future, it can be vague, but that’s OK. It may be wrong but that doesn’t matter. What matters is to have a vision.”
Brown offered his three tips for success for startups:
Have belief in yourself.
Be global and look after your customers. He said, “We spent a ridiculous amount of time on the road. But that’s because we were always focused on what the customer wants.”
Hold on to your cash. He said, “Treat it like your own. There is a danger that you raise too much money and then get sloppy.”