Turning “Black Silicon” Into Gold: SiOnyx Closes $12.5M from Bay Area and Seattle Firms, Goes After Image Sensor Market

10/20/10Follow @gthuang

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get a foothold in the cutthroat semiconductor industry. “We can get there quickly. We’re in foundries, standing on the shoulders of the cellphone industry,” Saylor says. The key is finding the right partners—of which Coherent is a good example. The two companies have been working together on the laser technology required to make black silicon at a commercial scale. “If you have a platform technology, you need to align with the right partners so you’re not doing the heavy lifting yourself,” he says.

Still, SiOnyx faces plenty of competition from big players such as Micron, OmniVision, Sony, and STMicroelectronics. There have been lots of different approaches to making better image sensors, such as photosensitive films, using other types of semiconductors besides silicon, and so forth. But SiOnyx thinks it has an edge because it is fundamentally changing the way devices work, and it has proven the performance of its technique.

Saylor plans to use the new money to build out his “execution team” and take care of the company’s early customers. He says SiOnyx will be hiring around the world—including in Asia and the company’s satellite office in Beaverton, OR—in areas including engineering, marketing, finance, and business development. The company has more than 20 employees now and expects to double in size within 18 months, Saylor says.

As for the challenge of getting new VCs aboard in the most recent financing round, Saylor says, “There’s a lot of semiconductor history that says it requires a ton of capital. What makes us unique is we don’t have a massive device design team. We’re not doing an incredibly complex codec [chip] or next-generation processor. We’re using existing technology and enhancing it with our process.”

Lastly, he observes, “There is a great talent pool in the Boston area that’s underutilized. There aren’t many growth stories around semiconductors around Boston. But nothing scales like a successful fabless semiconductor company.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • James Miller

    Where are the solar panel manufacturers lining up? Why is this not even being mentioned in the article? Shouldn’t cheap and efficient renewable energy be the main focus and cellphone cameras secondary? Where is the interest of our government in making sure this gets fast-tracked with funding and directed towards our electricity infrastructure? This raises more questions than it answers, and I’m almost afraid of the answers.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ghuang/ Gregory T. Huang

    James,
    As far as I can tell, the solar cell applications are further out, but still important, obviously. SiOnyx is pursuing a bunch of different markets, including security, surveillance, automotive, and medical imaging. My guess is solar cell manufacturing is a long slog for any young startup. The image sensor applications are a faster sell.

    Greg