Peter Wharton, CEO of Adventiq
Backgrounder: Based in Bar Hill near Cambridge, Adventiq is a privately-held company whose investors - among others - include RealVNC - the inventors of VNC - and Adder, the manufacturer of KVM equipment.
Sending keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) signals via IP networks is widely viewed as the future of the KVM industry as it transitions from analog switching techniques.
Adventiq's technology has its roots in research originally carried out at the AT&T Laboratories in Cambridge, where VNC technology was developed.
To extend VNC's reach into remote systems administration, where effective support means being able to access a computer or server during start-up, shutdown or lock-up states as well as during normal operation, Adventiq has integrated RealVNC's Enterprise Edition Server into a system-on-a-chip, known as ARQ3. This means that for devices built around ARQ3, no additional software needs to be run on the target computer (often an issue with critical servers), and that the remote control is inherently secure, transparent and robust. 1) Can you give a snapshot of where the company currently stands commercially? We are now shipping evaluation boards that enable potential customers to see the performance of our new ARQ3 chip, and at least one of our customers will be announcing the first products based on the ARQ3 at the CEBIT tradeshow next month. We've had a great deal of interest among makers of computer accessories, and things are going very well for us. 2) Would you describe KVM over IP as a niche market? It started as a niche, but is rapidly becoming mainstream. KVM switch makers compete in a market worth $888m US dollars this year (source: Venture Development Corp), with KVM over IP accounting for 20% of the market. Most commentators agree that in time KVM over IP will mostly or entirely replace analogue KVM switching. So while the overall KVM market is growing at 15%, the KVM over IP segment is growing at a much higher rate. 3) What is VNC and in what ways is it changing the world? VNC stands for 'Virtual Network Computing' and it's a way of remotely controlling your computer - any kind, MAC, PC or Linux - from anywhere in the world so long as you have a network connection.
It was invented in Professor Hopper's lab in Cambridge - the Oracle & Olivetti Research Laboratory as it was then - and it is used by practically every major corporation in the world. Instead of transmitting every pixel on the screen, it works by encoding just the changes as a series of rectangles - this makes it very efficient in terms of network bandwidth.
Adventiq has taken the latest secure version - RealVNC - and embedded it in a chip aimed at the KVM world, where it's necessary to have access to a computer even when it's booting up or crashed. Software versions of VNC arenâ€™t appropriate for this application as they rely on the computer being up and running already, in order to load the VNC server application. 4) What is your current funding situation? The conventional wisdom is that you need to raise tens of millions to launch a semiconductor company - even a 'fabless' one. In contrast, we set ourselves the goal of getting the first product to market without external finance, and I'm pleased to say we've achieved it, with our parent companies Adder Technology and RealVNC each contributing modest amounts of start-up capital. We've started development of our second and third products, and may be able to grow the company without venture capital. 5) What are your key targets for 2007? We'd like to see our ARQ3 chip designed into half a dozen products from well established brand names in the KVM industry. We don't plan to hire many staff: the focus is on keeping things lean. Our key customers are in the USA, Taiwan, China and Israel and it would be good to have one or more customers in each of these regions during 2007. 6) What is the focus of your R&D activities? We're interested in building chips that simplify remote access and management of computers. So we'll be applying our core skills to solve the key problems in these areas, drawing on the expertise of friends and sub-contract partners in the local area. 7) In what ways do the challenges you face at Adventiq differ from those at your last company, Cambridge Broadband? At one level it's very similar. As CEO of a start-up my role is to spend as little money as possible while proving the technology with lead customers before scaling up the organisation.
The biggest difference is that at Cambridge Broadband we went down the venture capital route from the outset: this approach commits you to build the company towards a high valuation exit, which in turn means taking more risk. With Adventiq we're seeking to keep risk at a minimum by using a very experienced team, keeping the overheads low and maintaining close relations with early customers.
As a strategy, it's closer to that of 3Way Networks than Cambridge Broadband - it's no coincidence that Dr. David Cleevely, the 3Way chairman, was also a board member of Cambridge Broadband for five years and taught me much about running start-up companies. 8) What role did Business Weekly have in the formation of the company? I believe a Business Weekly story about the offshoots from Prof. Hopper's lab that mentioned RealVNC helped Adder to identify them as a partner, which in turn led to the founding of Adventiq. 9) Another company with roots in the AT&T Labs has said that it plans to become Cambridge's next billion dollar company. How big can Adventiq become? We're competing in a market that is worth about a billion dollars annually, so it's hard to see Adventiq's revenue or valuation reaching those heights. Numbers an order of magnitude lower are more realistic given we're in a slightly more niche market. 10) Given the number of companies that have been formed by former employees, do you agree that the closure of the AT&T Labs has had a positive effect on the Cambridge economy? It certainly prompted a flurry of entrepreneurial activity as the more mature projects in the lab's pipeline were turned into independent companies. On the other hand, many of the earlier stage research projects have been stymied - so in the medium term the supply of future innovative companies will reduce as a consequence. It would have been much better if the lab had continued - it was a unique place and I miss it still.