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Chips off the old EPFL block

Xceive's designs are used in the production of silicon wafers (AP)


Two semiconductor startups formed by graduates of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have won funding from the United States.

Innovative Silicon SA and Xceive Corp have both raised around $29.5 million (SFr38 million) in the past few weeks from high profile US-based venture firms.

Lausanne-based Innovative Silicon, founded by EPFL professor Pierre Fazan three years ago, is developing a new memory technology that will be integrated into processors for computers and electronic devices.

It raised $16 million this month from Austin Ventures of Austin, Texas, in a second round of venture financing.

The Swiss firm only recently established a US base in Santa Clara, California, and hired seasoned Silicon Valley executive Mark-Eric Jones as its new CEO.

Co-investors include the firm’s earlier backers, Massachusetts-based Highland Capital Partners Inc., along with Index Ventures of Geneva, and Auriga Partners of Paris.

The funding comes on the back of Innovative Silicon introducing its first product on the market, a dynamic random access memory system (DRAM) intended for so-called embedded memory applications.

Innovative Silicon claims that its technology offers double the memory density of existing embedded DRAM solutions. It will license its intellectual property to large semiconductor manufacturers who will produce the memory chips in high volume.

Embedded memory is used by all computers and electronic devices that run software applications and perform processing. It is the temporary memory where applications are copied and executed and it is not to be confused with the memory technology used in hard drives which store data files and applications permanently.

One-chip solution

The EPFL also figures strongly in the story of Xceive, a startup chip company developing a one-chip solution to tune in analogue and digital television signals.

Xceive was founded in 2001 by Pierre Favrat (CEO), Alain-Serge Porret (VP-RF products), Benito Carnero, Philippe Duc, Didier Margairaz, Friederich Mombers, Richard Perring and Dominique Python. All are graduates of the EPFL.

The chip firm has just closed a $13.5 million third-round investment with Sequoia Capital joining as a new investor.

Early investors, Alliance Ventures, BA Venture Partners and Ignite Group - all Silicon Valley investors - also returned for the round.

Sequoia is best known for backing Google’s founders. The popular search engine’s market capitalization has more than tripled to $80 billion since its flotation on the NASDAQ about a year ago.

Xceive employs around 35 people and is headquartered in Santa Clara, with a small and growing R&D team in Morges, near Lausanne.

The new capital means that the firm will be hiring integrated circuit engineers at both its locations. The startup's chips are expected to find their way into set-top boxes, mobile phones, and television sets.

It is not without competition. Big names, such as Broadcom, Freescale (formerly Motorola), Maxim, Panasonic, and Philips Electronics, as well as STMicroelectronics, have all announced plans to sell digital TV tuners.

What makes Xceive hopeful about its success is the fact its technology is a so-called single chip solution, which should cost less than competitors’ products, and uses less power than existing systems.

by Valerie Thompson


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