Silicon Valley used to have lots of places that incubated new technologies. They were called research labs, and they were funded and nurtured by big tech companies, like Xerox and Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. Those research labs have shrunk dramatically, and have moved away from nurturing new technologies to bringing more mature technologies to market.
But Silicon Valley is still a land of incubators—these days, though, they’re incubating companies as much as technologies. And a new one starts, it seems, almost every day, bringing us incubators for web and mobile applications like Y Combinator, incubators for hardware like Haxlr8r, incubators for medical technologies like StartX Med, and, as of 31 December 2014, an incubator for semiconductor companies, Silicon Catalyst.
Do semiconductor companies really need their own incubator, or start-up accelerator, or launchpad, or whatever the buzzword is this week? According to a press release from the new organization, semiconductor startups have been feeling left out, because “traditional investors have mostly abandoned early stage semiconductor investing.”
And the industry is ripe for an incubator, because, finally, semiconductor innovation is requiring less investment than ever before. And here’s the thing about incubators—they don’t put all of their eggs, virtual or otherwise, in one basket. They give lots of companies a little bit of help and hope for a big win here or there. The reason they think this investment strategy will work, the press release indicated, in a change in the market to focus on “IoT, biotech, wearables, energy, transportation, and mobile,” markets that “do not require leading-edge technologies and enormous R&D budget to create novel and valuable products.”
The plan right now is fairly murky. Silicon Catalyst in a 9 December press release said it will sign on mentors. Already on board are Synopsis, Keysight, and TSMC. And, starting in the first quarter of 2015, the organization will bring in entrepreneurs to work with those mentors. No word at this point about how many entrepreneurs will be in the first “class,” and how the whole financial package will work—like how much financial support entrepreneurs will get or how much of an equity stake the incubator will seek in return. The founding team includes Dan Armbrust, who, until recently, was CEO of Sematech, and other former semiconductor industry heavyweights. Silicon Catalyst’s website is counting down until 31 December at which point, it appears, more details will emerge.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.