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The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

February - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature

The Silicontrepreneurial Surge

Aritra Bhattacharya
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Aritra Bhattacharya
The high-flying bug has bitten the Indian semiconductor industry veterans big time. Over the last two years as many as 10 semiconductor start-ups have taken wings, with erstwhile senior managers of MNC semiconductor firms in the cockpit. ISA Chairman and former Broadcomm India chief Rajendra Khare, ex-NXP honcho PVG Menon, Vivek Pawar and Ganapathy Subramaniam (Gani) both ex-TI are a few of the people driving this new entrepreneurial wave, which is to a large extent an outcome of the realization of India as a market.

Their amble in the cocooned corridors of the big firms has been replaced by a swagger down the path of making their own companies find more than just a foothold. The reasons for their quitting secure jobs, and moving into the relatively volatile entrepreneurial space are varied; ranging from, in the words of Sankalp Semiconductor CEO Vivek Pawar ‘a desire of creating jobs for India’ to, as Uma Mahesh of Indrion puts it ‘showing the world that a global semiconductor product company can be built in India.’ And for some like ex-NXP business development manager PVG Menon, currently putting together a semiconductor-consulting firm, a candid realization: “Beyond a certain point in an MNC, you run out of elbow room, and you want to make your own destiny rather than doing something and waiting for clearances from sitting 10,000 miles away.”

Whatever the drive, and the desire to create and own a technology seems primary here, senior executives are chalking their own path in a big way. One of the early movers in this space was Ittiam, which creates IP in the DSP space. The company was started by Srini Rajam, ex-managing director of Texas Instruments India, along with his motley group of six colleagues from the same company in 2001. At that time, the pool of experienced professionals in India in the semiconductor space was low and it made sense to reach out to people in the same company while contemplating a start-up. Today, with the experience pool having increased, entrepreneurs are increasingly cutting across company lines while launching their vehicles. Vivek Pawar of Sankalp Semiconductor, for example roped in Alok Pugalia from Cranes Scientific Lab and Prabhat Agarwal from Infineon Technologies to launch his semiconductor services firm. Khare, on the other hand started Indus Edge Innovations in August 2006 with former Nokia India head Ravi Bhat and ex-Aztecsoft manager Anant Ghansal.

Despite such criss-crossing, putting the senior leadership in place remains a big challenge. Resultantly, many like Pawar are offering the senior management a stake in the new company to buck the short supply. “That way, I don’t have to bother about retaining them either,” notes Amit Kapur, CEO of two-month old design services and IP firm Seed Silicon, which is also adopting a similar approach. Also, most of the executives who have quit their jobs to join the start-ups have come for the excitement, at the cost of, as Gani of Cosmic Circuit puts it, probably half the remuneration.

Money Crunch, Talent Punch
Once the leadership hurdle has been crossed, or probably before it, the question of funding dogs the mind of the entrepreneurs. Though there is a lot of VC money floating in the market, and U.S. VCs being increasingly India bound, there is not much enthusiasm among the community for funding semiconductor product start-ups. Says Mahesh, who has been negotiating actively with many VCs for the past five months without having been able to close the deal, “The VCs here still have a software services mindset, and are unwilling to bet in the chip product field.”

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