The Ups and Downs of Bitboys, Now Known As Qualcomm Finland

4/1/09

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made it to market. The same thing happened in 1996 to Bitboys’ Pyramid3D chip. As the British IT journal, “The Register” put it, Bitboys became “… known chiefly for its ebullient performance claims and a string of missed deadlines.”

“It’s rare to have such a small company create such strong emotions,” says Mikko Saari, a Bitboys co-founder who is now country manager of Qualcomm Finland. Saari has been a friend of the Tuomi brothers since childhood, but he concedes, “The criticism was not unfounded. Bitboys were overoptimistic about what could be achieved—not technologically, but outside of the engineering work. We could have tried to fix our reputation, but we thought we’d handle it with just getting on with our work. We have learned our lesson. Luckily pros didn’t care. Nokia funded us in 2004, and they would not have thrown their money into a sink.”

Today, Bitboys founder Mika Tuomi is fed up with past criticism. “It’s easy to condemn some company from your home couch if you don’t know the facts. I’ve always been proud of what we have achieved with a small team,” he says.

Despite the problems with Pyramid3D and Glaze3D, Bitboys got approximately $7 million from Finnish investors in 2000. The Finnish government funding agency for technology and innovation, Tekes, also provided approximately $3.9 million to Bitboys from 1999 to 2004. “Tekes funded Bitboys when investors didn’t trust the company,” according to Saari.

Bitboys showed no profit between 1992 and 2003. But things began to change in 2002, when Bitboys was forced to move into mobile-graphics hardware. “Mobile phone graphics started to be a hot potato,” says Saari. Mobile phones got color displays. Bitboys got a profitable product-development deal with the Japanese giant NEC. Then came a series of extraordinary deals that few companies ever see.

—In February 2006, Nokia Growth Partners invested $4 million in Bitboys, acquiring a 20 percent ownership stake in the privately held company.

—In May 2006, ATI Technologies (Canada) bought Bitboys for $44M. ATI said in a press release that Bitboys would form “the nucleus for ATI’s centre of new European design.” Soon after this, ATI and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) announced a strategic long-term partnership. Founding brothers Mika Tuomi and Kaj Tuomi stayed and continued to work with the company.

—In July 2006, Advanced Micro Devices bought ATI for $5.4 billion. Bitboys became AMD Finland.

Country manager Saari refers to this time as “the maelstrom,” and says … Next Page »

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