Contributed by Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group
What fun I had in Berkeley on September 15 where I was honored to co-host the workshop on “MEMS Commercialization: Launching the Next Innovation-Based Businesses” – co-sponsored by MEMS Industry Group (MIG) and Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center (BSAC).
The nearly sold-out event was a half-day session, held at the zero-emissions David Brower Center near the UC Berkeley campus. I was so pleased to see so many MIG members as well as friends in the industry; several who traveled from around the world to attend. I’ll try to capture the flavor of the event here – but I encourage you to check out the video (when we post it; stay tuned) and download the .ppt of the speakers (again, stay tuned).
The workshop kicked off with a 2-hour poster session featuring the faculty of BSAC – which according to BSAC Executive Director, John Huggins, was the first time he’d ever achieved that feat. It was great to see some old friends including Al Pisano and Clark Nguyen – who are both doing famously well (literally) at BSAC.
Soon thereafter it was time for the “show” – the focus on this members-only workshop was to showcase on inspiration-to-commercialization paths from leaders in industry and academia; with an emphasis on the MEMS industry. John Huggins kicked off the program with a brief overview how a research consortium such as BSAC can, through “research syndication” realize breakthrough results with lower investments, a “Windfall”, an unanticipated return on investment. I followed up with a brief presentation on MIG (of course), the MEMS industry and some observations on the gaps and challenges involved in taking an innovative, disruptive technology application of MEMS and bring it to market. I gave a brief overview of a different model for innovation based on the GE – GE Global Research partnership that has successfully landed GE a top spot in the MEMS industry.
Then it was time to hear from the “streets” of commercialization – hearing the good, the bad and the entertaining stories of taking a product from concept to commercialization. This was launched by Stefan Heuser, president and CEO of Siemens Technology-To-Business Center (TTB). Stefan gave an elegant presentation of Siemens philosophy of innovation. He described how an “enlightened path to innovation research involves corporate collaboration with outside/university researchers who may not have the same predispositions or biases, that internal corporate cultures may unwittingly create.” I was especially interested in hearing Stefan talk of the concept of a “spin-in” where Siemens researchers work with universities and partners to launch companies within Siemens. While Siemens’ research scope goes far and wide (in terms of applications, markets and the globe) it was clear that the Siemens model is in it for the “long haul” and they take a long-term view of innovation and will most definitely survive this still ongoing (sigh) economic recession.
Stefan’s presentation was followed by Joe Seeger, director, MEMS development and co-founder of InvenSense. Even though InvenSense is in its “quiet period” as it prepares for its much-awaited IPO (sometime this fall), Joe shared with the audience his rendition of a “MEMS startup success story: from fabless design boutique to industry leader.” Joe discussed the challenges of moving an innovation-based technology from lab to fab to HIGH volume (and baby, I mean HIGH volume). As you probably already know by now, InvenSense is poised to be the biggest and boldest fabless MEMS company; and it was so fun to hear the “inside scoop” on the trials and challenges of being an industry leader and taking on giants such as STMicro. Really, it’s an amazing story. Joe discussed the core advantage of InvenSense – its packaging based on the work/genius of InvenSense founder, Steve Nasiri.
A perfect transition from Joe’s presentation was the one given by Bert Bruggeman, CEO Silicon Valley Technology Corp (SVTC). Bert discussed the role of MEMS commercialization and bridging the chasm from “ideation” to production. While exuding his wry wit, Bert explained how the development fab model (such as SVTC) can provide a cost-competitive process development infrastructure in a manufacturing-like fab environment, that enables the accelerated commercialization of proof of concepts into real, manufacturing-ready technology solutions. I enjoyed Bert’s war stories and reminded the audience not to “rely on the lucky wafer” but instead, test, calibrate and refine…before you go anywhere near volume production.
Tammi Smorynski, Director, Intel Capital was the “closer” for the presentation portion of the workshop. Tammi is a no BS kind of person who in her presentation didn’t try to sugar coat the realities of taking a technology launch from seed funding to liquidity event. She reiterated several times that while it might be cool to demo it in the lab ONCE, novel technology is not itself sufficient to get something to commercialization and a successful acquisition liquidity event. Tammi succinctly overviewed the traditional venture funding path and how the still-bleak current environment (US economy and venture industry) impacts fundraising and suggestions on how to manage through this cycle. Thankfully Tammi ended on a high note with some great advice and helpful hints for entrepreneurs on how to go beyond the research and overcome the pitfalls to commercialization.
After a quick break, it was my turn to have some fun as we convened a panel of the speakers for a Q&A session with the audience. I really enjoyed the lively conversations, thoughts, and insights that audience and panelists shared. We discussed a whole gambit of MEMS related topics, including equipment (Bert advised the audience to PLEASE not invent any more specialized equipment!). We also discussed standards, testing challenges, working with foundries (and confirmed my theory that “fabless is fabulous”) and cost challenges related to ramping up to volume production. I also had some fun putting some of the audience on the spot – shooting questions to Magnus Rimskog of Silex and Calin Miclaus of GE Sensing – asking them to share some of their advice and perspective on MEMS commercialization. As our closing statement, Joe Seeger compared the trials/tribulations and joys of “raising a startup” like InvenSense to raising children, though he admitted to the audience that his child was only five – one out of two ain’t bad, Joe. If the success of InvenSense is any indication of your skills, your kid is going to turn out just fine.