TeraView seeks £2m to exploit opportunity
TeraView in Cambridge is seeking to raise £2 million to exploit a game-changing opportunity in multi-billion dollar mobile phone and tablet personal computer markets identified through an alliance with Intel.
TeraView specialises in 3D imaging and spectroscopic systems that exploit the properties of terahertz technology.
The company is set to hire key sales staff in Cambridge and Asia and long-term will be opening global offices to leverage the opportunity created through the Intel collaboration on a new inspection tool for the semiconductor industry.
CEO Don Arnone revealed to Business Weekly how Intel’s approach for a specific solution had acted as a catalyst for a twin-headed attack by TeraView on the semiconductor segment and also the solar cell inspection market, although that may be a longer-term play.
He expects the new paradigm to help TeraView double or even triple revenues in the not-too-distant future.
Arnone said: “The new fundraising is a direct result of the Intel alliance. It’s great that such exciting opportunities have opened up as a direct result of a customer coming to us for a solution to a problem; it’s a whole new dynamic.
“Intel and ourselves co-developed a next generation high resolution terahertz time domain reflectometry unit designed for studying package interconnects. It answers the need in the mobile and tablet segments for more power and functionality within integrated circuits.
“The unit currently offers sub 10 micron resolution, which is an order of magnitude better than the current millimetre wave systems. Options exists to improve the resolution further. Customers want one micron or below. We’re working on it. There’s much more headroom in our technology development.
“Intel was an early identifier of the capabilities of Terahertz and built a roadmap around the new tool; now we are talking to non-Intel customers. There has been a lot of interest in taking the tool – notably from the Far East.
“We are in discussions with a lot of the major semiconductor players globally and are talking to existing and new investors to raise the capital to strengthen our technical and commercial teams in Cambridge as well as the far East and US.
“We have a product and now we need to improve our sales capabilities to maximise the opportunity. That applies here in Cambridge and also in Asia in the short term – further afield in the longer term.
“We have adopted an extremely focused model for growth. Taiwan represents the biggest single opportunity as it has the majority of companies involved in integrated circuit manufacture. Then we will target China, Korea and Japan – probably in that order.
“A few opportunities have presented themselves in different markets that we decided not to target because we didn’t want to scatter-gun.”
Still only around 20 people in Cambridge, TeraView clarly has the potential to double headcount in quickfire time. Its investment model is also interesting.
The company is in dialogue with with existing investors and new backers – but these are not just VCs. “We are also talking to companies and customers of ours who recognise the potential of this product. You’ve just seen Samsung set up a London office and it is no coincidence that a lot of big American technology players are in Cambridge and the UK looking at corporate venturing opportunities.
“There are a lot of US corporates out there at the moment with big cash stockpiles.”
Arnone said TeraView appreciated emerging in the commercial sunshine after a difficult transition since spinning out of Cambridge University.
He said: “It’s been difficult. But we have developed a core business that turns over good recurrent revenue and is growing at 10-15 per cent a year. Our commercial focus is good.”
TeraView’s imaging technology has also achieved success in analytics and defence markets. It could also lead to increased efficiency of controlled release pharmaceuticals.
One of its imaging machines is being used for ongoing research in the university’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology.
Dr Axel Zeitler, a lecturer in the Department who focuses on terahertz spectroscopy and imaging, will use TeraView’s tablet imaging system to further his research in the area of terahertz radiation and how it can be used to develop better processes and products, with a particular interest in pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Terahertz radiation is the ‘last frontier’ of the electromagnetic spectrum, occupying frequencies between microwaves and infrared. The equipment developed by TeraView uses terahertz radiation to produce highly detailed three-dimensional images, which are useful across a wide range of fields, including the semiconductor, solar, intelligence and pharmaceutical industries.
In the pharmaceutical industry, terahertz radiation is used to produce highly detailed images of pills and capsules and provides clear advantages over existing methods, as x-ray and infrared frequently lack the sensitivity to produce the same quality of images without destroying the tablet itself.
The images produced using TeraView’s equipment enable researchers to detect minute cracks and defects present in the coating of the tablets, especially important in sustained or controlled release versions where a lack of uniformity in the coating can lead to serious problems in both safety and efficacy.
The method developed by TeraView is unique in that it can map both tablet coating thickness and density, which when measured together form a more accurate indication of a tablet’s dissolution characteristics.
TeraView is now active in 16 countries and sells equipment and expertise to more than 40 industrial users, academic institutions and government agencies, particularly in the United States, as well as partners in the pharmaceutical, security, semiconductor and solar industries.
It recently entered into a major collaboration with Ohio State University, assisting in the development of products and supplying equipment to the university’s researchers.
TeraView has also recently extended the technology and its equipment is now being sold to leading semiconductor companies as a vital part of the assembly and testing of advanced semiconductor chips.
TeraView was spun-out from Toshiba Research Europe in 2001 by Sir Michael Pepper, Emeritus Professor of Physics, and Dr Don Arnone to exploit the intellectual property and expertise developed in sourcing and detecting terahertz radiation, using innovative semiconductor technologies.