Why Silicon Valley Still Excites Me

Article By : Nitin Dahad

Despite what we hear about shifts to places like Texas and Arizona, there still seems to be a strong base of innovation rooted in the Bay Area, and that's where things happen.

Whenever I visit Silicon Valley, I feel a sense of being part of something. My wife always tells me I am happier in Silicon Valley than I am at home. The reason is that in our industry, despite what we hear about shifts to places like Texas and Arizona, there still seems to be a strong base of innovation rooted in the Bay Area, and that’s where things happen. But it’s not just the innovation — it’s the connectedness, the seeming openness of people to share ideas and networks. It’s the customer base. It’s the access to people and, by extension, to funding.

It’s also about the knowledge base. This was evident on my recent trip to Silicon Valley, during a discussion with Venkat Mattela, founder and CEO of Ceremorphic. Mattela launched the low-power supercomputing startup after selling Redpine Signals to Silicon Labs for US$308 million, and he already has US$50 million in backing to build a company that he believes will be bigger than Nvidia. Driven by strong values of putting employees’ interests first and empowering them to innovate, he really does not let his previous success go to his head. And when I asked him why he chose to set up in Silicon Valley rather than a lower-cost area like Austin, Texas, he noted that some of his key advisers and other trusted experts are based in and around Stanford University, and he holds regular weekly meetings with them, so it’s important to be close to that expertise and knowledge base.

Ceremorphic’s Venkat Mattela
Ceremorphic’s Venkat Mattela shows the chips that enabled him to sell Redpine Signals to Silicon Labs for US$308 million. (Source: Nitin Dahad)

Why else would startups continue to base themselves or locate their headquarters in Silicon Valley? As I was writing this piece, an announcement came into my mailbox that Israeli startup NeuroBlade was setting up in Palo Alto and co-founder and CTO Eliad Hillel was relocating there. Having already raised a total of US$100 million for a data analytics accelerator based on its XRAM computational memory chip, the company clearly sees Silicon Valley as a springboard to its next phase of growth.

During my week in Silicon Valley, I met with many startup founders, many of whom already had exits and are on their next startup. Yunteng Huang, CEO and co-founder of Aeonsemi, explained how investor Lip-Bu Tan had immediately understood where Aeonsemi was going with its ideas for mixed-signal ICs for interface and timing. The company is now building its products. I got a peek into its strategy, but Huang said it was too early for me to write anything about it.

In another meeting, I just couldn’t get over the enthusiasm of Alan Rogers, president and CTO of Analog Bits, which earlier this year was acquired by SemiFive. Rogers explained in his British accent how the company, which delivers integrated clocking, sensors, and interconnect IP, came to be. He has the air of the engineer-scientist who knows exactly what he is doing and what he needs to get something done, and that is reflected in the company’s products, which he said are just designed to be simple and to work.

The closeness and connectedness of Silicon Valley mean you don’t have to go far to find the next exciting company, technology, or story. Serial entrepreneur and adviser Mike Noonen introduced me to Cem Basceri, founder and CEO of Qromis. Basceri talked about the unfulfilled promise of III-V semiconductors to date and how the fabless materials company is addressing this by focusing on wide-bandgap semiconductors, especially gallium nitride. Qromis is right across the road from Nvidia, so I also had the opportunity to tour that company’s massive new buildings and learn about some of the work being done in robotics using Nvidia’s solutions. I was particularly impressed with the reality of the Omniverse real-time simulation platform.

Nvidia Headquarters Silicon Valley
The author tours Nvidia’s facilities. (Source: Nitin Dahad)

I also visited AnDapt, which develops programmable power management ICs. A company trio — PMIC architect John Birkner, who co-invented the programmable array logic (PAL) chip; Zaryab Hamavand, vice president of sales; and Ran Ghoman, director of applications engineering — walked me through AnDapt’s online platform, where customers can create customized PMICs, as well as a simulation in the lab.

Of the many offices I visited, the busiest was SiTime’s. I caught up with Piyush Sevalia, executive vice president of marketing, who told me that rapidly rising data center bandwidth requirements and automotive business growth are driving demand for the company’s silicon MEMS-based timing products.

In the AI chip world, GP Singh, co-founder and CEO of Ambient Scientific, explained how Ambient is seeing extreme interest in AI chips from just about everyone and detailed the company’s expertise with in-memory mixed-signal computing. Meanwhile, Jonathan Ross, CEO and founder of Groq, and Dinesh Maheswari, his CTO, talked about the importance of deterministic compiler technology, which provides the ability to predict exactly the performance and compute time for any given AI or high-performance computing (HPC) workload with uncompromised low latency and performance.

Over in the world of IoT, connectivity, and displays, a host of product managers gave me a glimpse of their areas of work on a visit to Synaptics in San Jose. Michael Hurlston, president and CEO, said the company was ”really excited about the organic growth drivers that will help transition Synaptics from being mobile-centric to addressing the IoT. This is an opportunity area for us, and we’ll invest heavily in the next two years, especially in wireless and low-power AI.”

Staying in the world of wireless, particularly energy harvesting for IoT, Srinivas Pattamatta, vice president of Atmosic Technologies, updated me on the company and some of its customers. From an initial focus on remote controls and keyboards, the company is targeting future opportunities in asset tracking and wearables.

The week had many other highlights, including a visit down to South San Jose, where Sailesh Chittipeddi, executive VP and GM for the IoT and infrastructure business at Renesas Electronics, told me about its recent acquisitions as well as its plans in India. And at Power Integrations, I talked automotive markets with Peter Vaughan, director for automotive business development.

This is just a snapshot of my diary during the week I was in Silicon Valley in July. It’s typical of my visits to the area, with its abundant culture of innovative people feeding off of each other’s expertise and sharing ideas and networks. There aren’t many places you can go in the world where you look in every direction and find a company that is shaping some part of our world of electronics. And where else can you get access to so many human drivers of the industry — from researchers and engineers to investors and customers — in such a short time?

That’s why Silicon Valley remains attractive to so many companies. And that’s why even after almost 30 years of visiting, I still get a buzz out of Silicon Valley.

Now, when’s my next trip?

This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.

Nitin Dahad is the Editor-in-Chief of embedded.com, and a correspondent for EE Times, and EE Times Europe. Since starting his career in the electronics industry in 1985, he’s had many different roles: from engineer to journalist, and from entrepreneur to startup mentor and government advisor. He was part of the startup team that launched 32-bit microprocessor company ARC International in the US in the late 1990s and took it public, and co-founder of The Chilli, which influenced much of the tech startup scene in the early 2000s. He’s also worked with many of the big names—including National Semiconductor, GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Dialog Semiconductor and Marconi Instruments.


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