Fabless-semiconductor company designing vision processors that bring cameras in mobile devices closer to the sophistication of human vision.
Sean has spent over 25 years working in the semiconductor industry in various technical, business, marketing and general management positions including 5 years working at Silicon & Software Systems and 10 years at Parthus Technologies. While in Parthus, Sean was the General Manager of the Applications Processing Division and was part of the Management Team of Parthus through their successful IPO in May of 2000. In 2004, Sean was awarded a Masters Degree in Management Practice from the Irish Management Institute and TCD. Sean worked for Silansys Technologies in Dublin from June of 2004, managing the company’s new multimedia software business until the company was purchased by Frontier Silicon where Sean was the Director of Product Marketing until November of 2006 when he joined Movidius.
Sean received his degree in Electronic Engineering from Trinity College Dublin in 1989 and a Masters degree in Electronic Engineering, also from TCD in 1990.
David Moloney is the Chief Technology Officer at Movidius. He has worked for 29 years in the semiconductor industry since qualifying with a BEng in Electronic Engineering from Dublin City University in 1985. He has a wealth of previous international experience having worked for Infineon (Siemens Semiconductor Division), SGS- Thomson Microelectronics (STM), Parthus Technologies and Frontier Silicon in various engineering and management roles. David received a PhD from Trinity College Dublin in 2010 for his research into high performance computer architectures. He is the inventor/co-inventor of 17 issued US patents, has participated in two FP7 Framework projects and acts as a technical reviewer for the EU commission.
Movidius is a fabless semiconductor company headquartered in San Mateo, California, with design-centres in Dublin and Timisoara, Romania. The company was founded in Dublin in October 2005 by David Moloney and Sean Mitchell. Movidius produces a software programmable multimedia processor (Myriad1) delivering exceptional performance at low-power. Myriad1 is in mass-production in a 65nm process technology in devices such as Google’s Project Tango and CentrCam’s panoramic camera. Movidius is working on next generation platforms to deliver even more performance and power efficiency.
Movidius has a 60 person R&D team, 15 of whom are based in Ireland, augmented by additional external contractors. Of the $50M funding raised to date over $25M has been spent on products and services in the Irish economy. The internal team is split between IC design, PCB development, software tools development and software applications development. The IC design team develops state-of-the-art processor cores and systems on chip from the ground up using the latest tools and methodologies. The hardware team takes the finished chips from manufacturing and designs evaluation boards and even some customer boards around them. The tools team develops all elements of the development tool-chain including simulator, LLVM-based C-compiler, assembler, debugger etc. Finally, the apps team has developed leading edge applications such as H.264 HD video encode and decode, 3D graphics, and 3D ISP (Image Sensor Pipeline) from scratch for the Movidius SHAVE processor using internally-developed tools.
Movidius is deeply engaged in such state-of-the-art projects as Google’s Project Tango; here two Myriad1 chips are used to implement key parts of the computer vision pipeline, cutting power dissipation and time between charges by a similar factor. The company is also engaged with tier-1 OEMs in the mobile and wearables spaces and has big plans yet to be announced.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
David and Sean had worked together since 1994 in Parthus, Silansys and Frontier and had always wanted to start a fabless semiconductor company having tried the IP route in Parthus and found that it left too much value on the table. The “light-bulb” moment came when David who was working on a PhD on High-Performance Computing in TCD talked to academic colleagues about what Havok was doing in game-physics and came to the conclusion that his work could be applied to Havok’s problem-space but targeting mobile devices. A conversation with Sean ensued, we talked to Steve Collins CTO of Havok about our idea, he approved, and the company was born.
How did you secure your first investment?
We initially funded the company out of our own pockets from Oct 2005 with no help from the seed-capital scheme or even BES as the rules precluded us. In Aug 2007, we brought Enterprise Ireland onboard with a €486k investment, when we did a BES round for €1.3M. Subsequent to this, we did our initial VC A-round in October 2008. Many of our BES investors have continued to follow their money through subsequent A, B, C and D VC rounds and their belief and loyalty has been essential through turbulent times.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
Which one? It has been a rollercoaster ride since we raised our A-round financing in October 2008 at the beginning of the financial meltdown. We had 3 forecast scenarios for the A-round, high burn for a quick exit, medium and low cash conservation mode. In the end we spent a lot less that the low-burn scenario and have been extremely fiscally prudent in what is a notoriously cash intensive business. We went through 2 subsequent B and C rounds before our initial investors tapped-out in Sep 2012 and we ended up keeping the company alive again out of our own pockets and our loyal BES investors who bravely bridged the company through a torrid time when all options including liquidation were considered. It was a nascent relationship with Motorola ATAP in computational video using the Myriad1 chip that had been established from humble beginnings at the end of 2011 that gave us and our BES cohort the confidence to bridge the company. This belief and support from Motorola’s ATAP group allowed us to bring onboard a new consortium led by Abven and DFJ-Esprit in March 2013 who essentially rebooted the company with a $15M injection of capital in a D-round of VC.
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
We had been keeping a lot of the details of our technology confidential as our “secret-sauce” and eventually decided to “open the kimono” in 2011 in an approach to a former Parthus colleague Chuck Moore who was one of the organisers of the HotChips conference in Stanford. Our HotChips paper was delivered on August 19th 2011 and Silicon Valley finally started to take notice. Chuck has since sadly passed away from pancreatic cancer. The profile we got at HotChips led indirectly to an introduction to Motorola’s ATAP group who were looking for a low-power solution for computational video in mobile platforms and the rest as they say, is history.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
Addressing the huge interest in Myriad since the Google Project Tango launch while staying focused on execution.
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
Of those we can talk about, landing Google ATAP as a customer.
What were the best & the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
Why would I invest money in your company when I could generate a much better return by investing in bank shares or property?
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Don’t spend your own money, find a customer who cares early on and continually verify that you are meeting their needs. If applicable, use a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to build a relationship with end customers early in the cycle and fail fast and cheaply. You can always earn more money if you haven’t wasted too long on the wrong idea.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
David: Selling Christmas stickers when I was 6 or 7 to raise money for African children without telling my Mum who then wondered where they’d gone.
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
Prof. Mike Flynn of Stanford University, Steve Collins CTO of Swrve, Wili Miettinen of Microtask and many others who have given their time and energy to help us.
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
We compete in a global market against the biggest and best companies in the world, however our “Irish-ness” in terms of our natural ability to converse with people and compromise has certainly helped us to be seen as a help rather than as a threat, a partner instead of an adversary.
How do you generate new ideas to stay ahead of the curve?
We engage with tier1 customers as “great problems demand great solutions”. We also partner with the best universities and participate in FP7 and hopefully H2020 projects which keeps us well ahead of the curve. We hire the best and give them challenging work to do which again stimulates our engineers to be creative, and spend a lot of effort to develop our engineers.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Education, hunger to learn, communications skills, humility and participation in open-source projects.
Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?
Absolutely since the beginning of 2013 the pace of customer engagements has been accelerating at an increasing rate particularly with our new US HQ and focus on US customers.
What do you believe it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
1% inspiration and 99% perspiration … don’t get discouraged easily when you believe in your idea and team.
If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”?
Immersive virtual-reality gaming using a headset and computer vision algorithms to modify the world as you see it and make every environment “game-able”.
What do you believe is your company’s competitive advantage?
Unique technology which is 10x better than the competition, our product roadmap and our team.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today?
Huge amounts of personal and family time, cash and loss of earnings.
How do you recharge your batteries?
Sean is a key member of baseball Ireland and plays on the Irish baseball team.
David runs 10ks and half marathons.