Riding on a chip [India Business] [Times of India]
(Times of India Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Spirit of Entrepreneurship : Ganapathy Subramaniam
Remember Steel Authority of India's catchy slogan: "There is a little bit of SAIL in everybody's life" Ganapathy Subramaniam's Cosmic Circuits could replace 'SAIL' in that line and it would be almost as apt.
Cosmic's intellectual property (IP) is present in every leading cellphone and tablet in the world. The Bangalore-based semiconductor startup, founded in 2005, already has over 500 IPs in what is called the analog and mixed signal circuit space.
ARM, the British semiconductor and software design company whose chip designs are at the heart of most of today's mobile devices, is the semiconductor company with the largest number of IPs in the world. In the sub-segment of analog and mixed signal, the $1.5-billion Synopsys has the most number of IPs. But Cosmic is also right up there with the leading vendors. Wikipedia has an entry that lists major vendors in the business of licensing semiconductor IP cores. In that, you will find Cosmic in four of the 14 categories of semiconductors.
Analog and mixed signal chips (the latter combines analog and digital circuits on a single chip) are present in almost every electronic product. Analog chips are what read and process speech, music, video, light, pressure and temperature.
They understand these waveforms, and then an analog-to-digital converter converts these into the 0s and 1s that are required for digital chips to process, manipulate and store the data.
A digital-to-analog converter is then required for the digital information to be presented to us human beings in a form that we can make sense of.
Cosmic has IPs in these converters, power management in chips (different functions in a device require different amounts of power), audio chips (speaker, microphone) and in temperature-sensing chips (which prevent a device from heating too much). Cosmic is also now getting into connectivity IPs - those that allow the main processor to connect to a USB, camera, display, memory card or a TV.
"Every year, 75 million chips are shipped with Cosmic IPs," says Subramaniam. "Since 2008, we have also been making full integrated circuits (chips), and today we are shipping 2 million chips a month. We sell even to China (the heart of the world's chip making industry)."
Subramaniam, now 44, was born in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, and lived there with his mother till he was in Class 6, after which they moved to Bangalore where his father was in the Army's Corps of Electronics & Mechanical Engineers.
He went on to do an electrical & electronics degree from REC, Trichy, which he completed in 1989 and joined the Bangalore R&D centre of US-based semiconductor company Texas Instruments.
For the next 16 years, he was in Texas Instruments in multiple roles, including a two-year stint in the US when he headed the Wi-Fi engineering division. Texas Instruments is the world's leading player in analog, and that is where Subramaniam picked up his interest in that space.
In 2005, he quit Texas Instruments with four of his friends to start Cosmic. "We wanted to be a globally recognized electronics company out of India. At the time, there was no large Indian semiconductor company," he says.
Poornima Shenoy, who was the founding president of the India Semiconductor Association, says what is remarkable about Cosmic Circuits is their entrepreneurial journey. "They are first-generation entrepreneurs who have built an IP company from scratch and that, too, in the analog design world. Talent is scarce in that space and that makes the achievement even more remarkable," she says.
The fact that India imports most of its electronics requirements has also been a huge challenge for Cosmic, just as it has been for others in the space like Ittiam Systems. "But despite that, we have had a
CAGR of over 30% since we started and have been profitable from our first year," says Subramaniam.
He declines to talk about revenues, or provide customer names because of confidentiality agreements. He has not taken any external funding, but he says he would consider that if the Indian market opens up. And there are signs of that, with the Indian government's new electronics policy providing for a number of measures, including mandating local procurement up to a degree. "It's necessary. China and Korea really encourage their local players," Subramaniam says.
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