A new era for Finwave
Three-dimensional GaN FinFETs will ramp to production volumes under the leadership of Pierre-Yves Lesaicherre, Finwave’s new CEO
Companies that are spun out of universities tend to follow a similar trajectory. In their fledgling form, they recruit personnel from the accompanying research group that have specific expertise for honing the technology, and select a researcher from that background with entrepreneurial flair. But when the next phase comes, requiring the raising of substantial capital and shift from development to production, a new leader takes over with a proven track record of delivering on these fronts.
It’s an evolution that is taking place right now at Finwave, the pioneer of three-dimensional GaN FinFET technology that spun out of MIT ten years ago, initially under the name Cambridge Electronics. The company’s co-founder and former CEO, Bin Lu, who helped develop the core technology while working for his PhD in Tomás Palacios’ group, has now taken over the CTO role, and in his place comes industry veteran Pierre-Yves Lesaicherre.
Incredibly enthused by the tremendous potential of Finwave’s technology, Lesaicherre brings with him a wealth of executive experience, having previously held a number of executive roles that include: CEO of equipment manufacturer Nanometrics, where he oversaw the merger with Rudolph Technologies; CEO of the LED manufacturer Lumileds; and several Senior Vice President and Vice President roles at NXP Semiconductors.
Lesaicherre has been appointed to scale Finwave. “The company got new investors on board last year through Round A, and the new investors have been pretty adamant that they want to see the building of a structure that will allow the company to thrive.”
Encouraging Lesaicherre to take on this challenge is what he sees as the great potential of Finwave’s highly differentiated GaN technology platform, delivering an order-of-magnitude advancement in both the RF and the power domain. “I always use the analogy of a diamond. It's very difficult to find diamonds, but once you have a rough diamond, it's a lot easier to refine it and cut it and make it into a shining star than it is to develop the technology.”
There’s no doubt that Lesaicherre’s background has equipped him with the expertise to do just that. As well as knowing how to build and structure a company, he will draw on a wide network. “I know a lot of people through the years and I think that's going to be tremendously helpful as we grow.”
Finwave's new switch for 5G millimetre-wave applications received a very positive reception from those attending this year's International Microwave Symposium.
To begin with, Lesaicherre will concentrate on generating sales. “We are working hard to expedite the production of our first product to meet the enthusiastic demands of our customers, as swiftly as possible.”
His other focus is on securing a second round of funding to add to the Series A investment of $13.4 million, which closed in summer 2022. “That's going to come fairly quickly. We have a runway until the end of next year, so by the end of this year or early next year we're going to have to raise the Series B round.”
Initially, Lesaicherre will not focus his effort on the company’s strategy. That’s the task for Finwave’s Chief Strategy Officer, Jim Cable, who previously led Peregrine Semiconductor. Both Cable and Lu will guide Lesaicherre while he refines his understanding of the company’s technology and its opportunities. However, further down the road Lesaicherre will take on the responsibility for the company’s strategic direction.
Finwave has already started to target the RF market, having demonstrated its first product, an RF switch, at this year’s International Microwave Symposium (IMS).
“It's a ten-watts broad-band switch that has a remarkably fast switching time and settling time,” enthuses Lesaicherre. Allied to that speed – a switching time of 50 ns and a settling time of 100 ns – is a breakdown voltage of around 50 V, and a high degree of linearity and isolation.
While SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology can match the power-handling capability of Finwave’s device, it falls short on other key metrics. SOI suffers from a slower switching speed, and with a breakdown voltage of around just 3 V, a very large number of devices must be deployed in series. Note that the other contender, GaAs, cannot offer as low a settling time as Finwave’s technology, due to traps in the material.
Lesaicherre says that the unique performance of Finwave’s transistors led to a very positive reception at IMS. “Now we're sampling these devices to potential customers and we are receiving very positive reactions confirming their exceptional performance.”
The company is initially focusing on the 5G millimetre-wave market with a product that sets a new benchmark for power-handling capability.
"When utilised in customer premise equipment, it effectively addresses the uplink power challenge," asserts Lesaicherre. "By doing so, we can unleash the full potential of 5G millimetre-wave."
Finding a fab partner
Finwave developed its 8-inch GaN-on-silicon technology in partnership with Lincoln Labs, which has a small engineering fab in Massachusetts.
“The challenge this year and next year is to move to a high-volume eight-inch fab,” says Lesaicherre. “We're in discussions with partners right now in the US and Taiwan to find a good landing spot for a high-volume, eight-inch manufacturing partner.”
Negotiations are far easier than they would have been a couple of years ago, when capacity constraints were rampant.
“GaN-on-silicon will be an important factor to load these fabs,” points out Lesaicherre. “So the partners we're talking to are very interested, because they see a potential long-term utiliser of their factory capacity.”
Fabs with an 8-inch line, which typically have a lithographic capability that extends to 65 nm, should be capable of producing the vast majority of products that Finwave plans to manufacture. However, it’s possible that if Finwave designs devices for much higher frequencies, that might require production on a 12-inch line that’s capable of producing devices with smaller dimensions.
Lesaicherre would like to announce an 8-inch high-volume partner within the next few months and transfer production to them.
Additional aims are to expand the company’s portfolio with the introduction of power amplifier products next year, and secure traction from some customers.
“Hopefully before the end of the year we're going to be able to announce utilisation of the device in specific applications and specific customers,” says Lesaicherre.
These milestones should help the company secure more funding for its Series B round, which will require winning over new investors.
“When you get to Series B you attract a different type of investor,” claims Lesaicherre. “I think some of our Series A investors will be staying with us and invest in Round B, but I would expect the bulk of the money to come from new investors.”
Until that money comes in, they’ll not be a major change in headcount, which is currently totalling around 20, but will grow slightly as a few staff are added to support the technology development, device design and marketing activities.
“We're very conscious of our burn rate, and we want to keep operating at a fairly frugal level until we get the additional funding,” says Lesaicherre.
Clearly, he knows not only what needs to be done to ensure that the FinFET excels, but the right order for those many steps to success.