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(Image courtesy of Fritzchens Fritz, Flickr).

Analog Chip Startup Led by Ex-Arm Executives Raises $5 Million

Agile Analog, an analog semiconductor startup led by former Arm executives, has raised its first $5 million in funding from Delin Ventures, Firstminute Capital and MMC Ventures. The company plans to sell customizable analog IP that can be dropped into integrated SoCs. Analog IP is designed to translate real-world signals, such as sound and touch, into electronic signals.

Agile Analog is building tools that use artificial intelligence to spit out custom analog IP based on the power, performance and area requirements of its customers. The goal is to give customers an alternative to manual analog design, which it claims has not fundamentally changed in decades. Its products include analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and linear regulators (LDOs), among others.

The company's executive ranks are stocked with former Arm executives. Chairman Pete Hutton is a former executive vice president of Arm's products group, while Agile Analog's other board member, Mark Redford, is currently vice president of emerging technologies at Arm. Chief executive officer Tim Ramsdale has also held high-ranking positions at Arm. He founded Agile Analog with chief technology officer Mike Hulse.

Analog design is a predominately manual process, and it can be excruciatingly slow and extremely expensive at times. Agile Analog aims to automate the process, giving customers access to custom analog IP—an approximately $2 billion global market, according to Ramsdale. "Analog design is the backwater of the semiconductor industry and we think Agile Analog can change that," Jonathan Hay of Delin Ventures, said.

Another challenge Agile Analog is trying to get around is that analog IP is not process-portable. Analog devices based on one process, such as 28-nanometers, generally can not be reused at another process, such as 10-nanometers. Agile Analog claims its customers can choose the process that best suits their specific application. The company's IP is available on processes ranging from 180-nanometers to 28-nanometers. 

“Agile Analog’s technology has the potential to become the industry standard for analog IP," Mina Samaan, investment manager at MMC Ventures, said in a statement.

Other startups are trying to loosen the bottlenecks around analog chip design. Movellus has started selling tools that it says can spit out digital devices capable of carrying out analog functions inside chips. The Silicon Valley company recently raised around $10 million in venture capital in an effort to expand its customer base. The startup, which was founded in 2010, is funded by Ray Stata and Intel Capital, among others.

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