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So much more than tin, clay and cider. Really! The South West of England continues to thrive in high technology. Innovation as well as a huge potential and a superb infrastructure are great advantages. Anna Lay for FASTtrack introduces start up companies that can maintain the great reputation of the region.
Once a world centre for tin and china clay mining, the South West of England now represents one of the world's leading regions for technological development. From the invention of the computer to the development of Concorde, the South West has a proud history of innovation and pushing technological boundaries. This continues today with the region being globally recognised as the European centre for silicon design.

There are now over 1000 silicon design engineers clustered in the UK's South West and their numbers are growing. This stems from the former INMOS and GEC-Plessey Semiconductor companies that together spawned a chip industry in the region. As the best young graduates migrated to the area for employment, other chip companies followed suit to tap into the local skill base. There is now an infrastructure in place that includes a highly skilled and experienced workforce, excellent travel and communication links, powerful business networks and support from influential research universities. This is bolstered by resources and funding from government bodies that recognise the high growth potential of silicon companies operating in the region.

A culture of innovation has grown up around the silicon industry in the South West of England, which receives twice the UK average level of government expenditure on Research and Development due to the presence of several major public sector research establishments and private research providers. The South West region is also home to research and development centres for global companies such as HP Labs, Motorola, Panasonic, ST Microelectronics and Toshiba. There is also as well as established companies such as picoChip in Bath and Icera Semiconductor and Clearspeed in Bristol.

Support and collaboration through business networks also plays an important role in developing the silicon design industry in the UK's South West. Powerful business networks such as Silicon South West (SSW) provide a link between businesses, researchers and investors. In addition, the National Microelectronics Institute and a university partnership, which includes the Universities of Bath and Bristol, support SSW.

Local universities have been central to the success of the silicon industry in England's South West. Not only have they provided skilled engineers but also first-rate R&D facilities. Working in collaboration through organisations such as SETsquared, the UK universities of Bristol, Bath, Surrey and Southampton provide business support to new high tech companies.

Potential, Infrastructure, Success
As success in high-technology markets is increasingly dependent on the ability to operate on a global basis, the appeal of the South West of England to silicon design companies is multiplied by its excellent travel and communication links. Some of the UK's fastest growing airports including Bristol, Exeter and Bournemouth are located in the region and there are exceptional high speed ICT communications featuring 100% connectivity and more fibre optic cables than any other part of the UK.

The UK's South West is a magnet for national and even international silicon designers. In addition to the well known silicon companies already mentioned, the South West is home to a growing number of innovative semiconductor start up businesses that contribute significantly to the region's economy and have gone on to become leading players worldwide.

Such is the potential of semiconductor companies in the South West of England that five start up businesses with high growth potential have been selected to receive business support through a new programme called FASTtrack, led by the Silicon South West business network.

The aim of the programme is to accelerate the growth of these companies and maximise their potential in global markets.

High Five
The five companies chosen for FASTtrack are PowerOasis, Systems4Silicon, Silicon Basis, Art of Silicon and Xintronix. These companies were carefully selected for the programme on the basis that they had a novel technology based on a defendable IP which could lead to high growth in the UK and overseas markets.

As the companies have the potential to compete internationally, the programme was able to secure support from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a government body that aims to enhance the competitiveness of UK companies through overseas trade and investments. An additional UK government body, the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) was also keen to back the programme on the basis that the five FASTtrack companies are likely to have the ability to create well paid jobs in the region.

A research project with successful industry players such as Motorola and Toshiba revealed that in order for silicon start ups such as these to compete in the global arena, tremendous up front investment is required as well as sales and marketing guidance. The aim of the FASTtrack programme is therefore to provide financial support as well as training and mentoring from industry experts to overcome these barriers and to assist in speeding up customer engagement and investor readiness.

FASTtrack provides the 5 selected start up companies with a simpler and faster route to R&D and development grants as well as UKTI support grants for activities associated with entering international markets such as website internationalisation and tradeshow support. In terms of sales and marketing guidance, FASTtrack provides industry experts to act as mentors to the 5 companies. The mentors work with the FASTtrack companies to develop a marketing strategy, which details how target markets can be reached. Central to this phase is a networking brief, which acts as a powerful tool to generate leads and gain feedback on proof of concept. As well known figures in the microelectronics industry, the mentors can also provide introductions to potential customers and suppliers.

Innovative culture
Support programmes such as FASTtrack that are available to silicon companies in the UK's South West have helped the region to become the European epicentre for semiconductor design, and there are no signs of it slowing down.

An innovative culture coupled with the existing infrastructure means that the region can continue to provide an encouraging environment for semiconductor companies. In fact, the South West of England is proving to be a fast growth, progressive region that is more than ready to compete in global electronics markets in the 21st century and beyond.

FASTtrack Silicon Start-Up Companies
Art of Silicon develops and provides data compression IP for multimedia applications. By expanding capacity and throughput with IP that has the lowest silicon footprint in the industry, the company offers solutions to problems associated with data transmission and storage.

PowerOasis supplies telco strength renewable power solutions for the wireless communications industry based on proprietary software algorithms. As telecoms operators expand their networks, grid connections can be impossible, prohibitively expensive or unreliable, especially in developing countries. In these situations diesel generators may be used for power but are subject to a range of problems. The renewable power solutions by PowerOasis provide an alternative that competes favourably on price, performance and environmental factors

Silicon Basis is a Semiconductor IP company with proprietary patent-pending innovations and worldwide license to a UC Berkeley technology patent. Silicon Basis has developed a programmable logic architecture known as ‘SiTela' which when compared to traditional FPGAs offers significantly improved logic density, performance and active and static power consumption.

Systems4Silicon provides intellectual property (IP) and design services to the wireless communications industry. Utilising its expertise in signal processing for the wireless physical layer (PHY) and power amplifier linearisation, the company has developed a 3rd generation digital predistortion (DPD) technology for use on FPGA targets.

With specialist industry knowledge, Xintronix implements equalizing receivers for next-generation bus standards, including USB 3.0 at 4.8 Gbps, PCI Express 3.0 at 8 Gbps and SAS-2 at 6 Gbps. Furthermore, Xintronix has a novel, patent pending solution which offers performance advantages and supports the lowest cost cables, circuit boards and connectors as well as low cost, low power silicon.




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