Limerick chip player powers an eco-friendly future

6 Aug 2009

University of Limerick spinout firm Powervation has raised an additional US$10m in venture capital to develop power cooling chips for the comms business. Antoin Russell is chief executive

How much venture capital has Powervation raised at this stage?

We’ve raised US$20m in funding from an A-list of venture capital firms such as Intel Capital, the Venture Tech Alliance, 4th Level Ventures and Europe’s largest semiconductor venture fund, SEP.

What are the company’s origins and can you describe the market you are targeting?

The company was formed in 2006 and 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.

We are a fab-less chip maker in that we don’t fabricate our own chips but outsource that to manufacturers elsewhere. We concentrate on the design and integration of these chips into future communications and networking platforms to help these systems to increase their energy efficiency by up to 30pc.

We are fortunate in that today broadband has an infinite future and with services like YouTube and Facebook increasing pressure on systems, there is a need for technologies to help communications equipment manufacturers make eco-friendly products.

We have signed deals with three of the world’s top communications equipment manufacturers and we’re due to go into production shortly.

Ireland needs to create indigenous companies of scale. Do you think this is realistic?

Absolutely, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to build indigenous companies that create well-paying jobs. We employ 35 people worldwide, with 25 in Limerick and the remainder in Cork, California and China.

It will take us another year or two to scale up the business but it would not be inconceivable that we would have 150 people in about two or three years.

Is there a disconnect between the academic world and the business of getting companies up and running?

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.

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.

Are we in danger of missing opportunities in a world where speed to market is critical?

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.


What does the future hold for Powervation?

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.

Pictured: Antoin Russell, chief executive, Powervation

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years