Artimi chips away at £11.3m round
Silicon Fen’s latest chip hotshot, Artimi could cement its place among the world elite by the end of the year if it hits a series of critical milestones and targets.The ultrawideband (UWB) chip designer is seeking to raise £11.3m ($20m) in Series B venture capital, increase its headcount by almost 50 per cent and bank its maiden revenues by the end of the year.
UWB is a wireless technology that enables incredible data transfer rates over short distances, replacing the need for even more of the wires and cables that interconnect PCs and the various peripherals and also consumer electronics devices, such as digital cameras and MP3 players.
Following the inevitable ‘standards battle,’ UWB now looks set for commercial lift-off, with WiMedia the agreed de facto standard.
The news in 2005 that the Bluetooth special interest group had agreed to integrate UWB into the next-generation version of Bluetooth gave the technology further commercial impetus.
Observers of the industry believe that this development on its own effectively doubled the target addressable market (TAM) for UWB overnight.
Artimi’s CFO, Richard Dellabarca says that wider aim of the year for his company is "to build the infrastructure to deliver mass market silicon in 2007."
It is at this stage that Artimi’s revenues could move into the "material category." The first trickle of revenues are expected before that, by the end of this year.
Artimi is not yet four years old, but has already built a world-leading position in UWB, using the same fabless model operated to such good effect by the likes of Virata and CSR.
The company has already hit significant milestones, releasing the world’s first single-chip UWB device in May 2005 and closing a $14m financing round from world-class US and UK VCs Accel, Oak Investment, Amadeus and Index Ventures. Index, for example, backed VoIP company Skype prior to its £1.4bn acquisition by eBay.
Dellabarca’s efforts this year will be focused on gaining the continued backing of existing investors for a Series B round and is also seeking to bring on board new strategic investment, organisations that can also "contribute value beyond the financial."
The scale of Artimi’s technical achievements to date should not be underestimated, Della-barca believes.
He cites the example of another major semiconductor company that devoted the efforts of 300 engineers, bankrolled to the tune of $140m, in order to develop a single-chip UWB device.
The company failed. Artimi on the other hand, achieved the feat with a team of 13 and $5m.
The company is nominally headquartered in Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, CA but the vast majority of its employees and all of its engineering/development function is based in Cambridge.
Artimi currently employs 57 across the company, but that figure will be boosted to 80 by the end of the year, with most of the new positions being created in the engineering department.
The US base is the focus for the company’s commercial operations.
Applications engineers are at the top of the list, to work alongside consumer electronics companies and help design the UWB chips into their next-generation products.
To give some idea of the step change UWB represents over other wireless technologies, Bluetooth can transfer data at a rate of 1 Megabit per second, with a maximum range of 10 metres, Wi-Fi can theoretically deliver rates of up to 54Mbps with a range of 30m – 50m; meanwhile, WiMedia, the newly agreed UWB standard, has clocked 480 Mpbs in the 10m range.
Rates of 1 Gbps are well within reach according to Artimi and the range will be increased beyond the personal area network as the standard evolves.
Artimi is one of six-start-ups operating in the space, although all the major semiconductor players from Philips to Texas Instruments have a serious interest in the field.
Where Artimi scores is not only in its achievement of delivering the world’s first single chip, but also in its tightly focused business model.
The other players are concentrating predominantly on the PC segment of the market – streaming video between a computer and a screen, for example.
Artimi on the other hand, has designed its chip with battery-powered devices firmly in mind, the only solution on the market with the requisite low power consumption and low cost attributes.
It is forecast that wireless bulk data transfer between devices such as digital cameras, MP3 players and mobile phones and a personal computer will account for about 30 to 40 per cent of the overall UWB market and as it stands, Artimi has that segment well and truly by the scruff of the neck.
Making best use of limited resources, Artimi has targeted only the ‘tier one’ OEMs in each of the 10 vertical markets it has identified as offering the best opportunities, and is either actively collaborating or is in discussions to that effect with all of them.
Dellabarca said the companies that Artimi has targeted account for about 80 or 90 per cent of the volumes in each of those vertical markets.
The aim of the Artimi management is to build a company for an IPO on NASDAQ – the company was incorporated in the US at the time of the Series A funding round with such an eventuality in mind.
But given the company’s technology lead and the level of interest in UWB from the world’s largest electronics companies, it may not make it that far.
One of the UWB start-ups, US based Blue7 Communications was acquired by NASDAQ listed Sigma Designs last month.