Limerick chip firm plans to create 150 jobs in next two years

16 Jun 2009

A University of Limerick spin-out company that is making semiconductors for use by major communications original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) worldwide has the scope to increase its headcount to 150 people, as it moves into lucrative markets such as consumer electronics, has learned.

Limerick-headquartered Powervation, which is backed by an A-list of venture capital firms, including Intel Capital, has derived a new chip that has allowed manufacturers to achieve energy-efficiency gains of up to 30pc, along with a 50pc increase in transient response.

Powervation, which also has offices in California, China and Cork and employs 35 people worldwide – 25 of whom are in Limerick – grew out of the Circuits and Systems Research Centre at the University of Limerick, and benefited from the Enterprise Ireland-backed Power Electronics Industry Group.

The company was formed in 2006 and has so far raised US$20m in investment from a number of major Silicon Valley investment firms, including Intel Capital, the Venture Tech Alliance and SEP, Europe’s largest semiconductor fund.

Powervation chief executive Antoin Russell told that the company has won major deals with some of the top OEMs in communications servers and that the product is now at an advanced stage of completion. “We’re due to go into full production shortly.”

Russell explained that it takes 18 months from the signing of a deal to bring a chip to full production, due to the need to design the chip into new equipment.

The company, which won an ITLG (Irish Technology Leaders Group) award because of its capacity to scale globally, operates a fab-less semiconductor model, which means it focuses on the design of the chip and contracts out the manufacturing of the device to a foundry in Asia.

Russell said there is an urgent need to drive research activities in Ireland in the direction of applied research.

“The problem with the science infrastructure in Ireland is that research outputs are just published by the PhDs; there doesn’t appear to be any goal to demonstrate the product in real application.

“There’s an obvious gap in funding, knowledge and skillsets to drive technology or science from research to a real commercial environment.”

He said that gap could typically be a vital two-year period between where founders invest in the company themselves and access venture capital or their first commercial win.

“There is no doubt in my mind that serious opportunities are falling through the cracks. In Powervation’s case, it was down to the commitment of the individuals and founders.

“It was a collection of individuals in the research community in Limerick who were able to work together and blend their creation into something that was truly unique. That research goes back seven years, so there’s no such thing as an overnight success.”

Russell said that due to opportunities in new business areas such as consumer electronics and portable devices, as well as successful negotiations with major OEMs, the company is getting ready to scale up.

“It wouldn’t be inconceivable that within two years we could be employing 150 people,” he said.

“The applications for Powervation’s technology are very broad. We are very fortunate in the fact that broadband isn’t going to go away and the appetite for bandwidth and interconnectivity, thanks to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, is going up. There will be a growing need to improve the energy efficiency of the systems they run on,” Russell explained.

By John Kennedy