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EETE JULAUG 2014

executive interview China, not Apple, is way to go, says mCube CEO By Peter Clarke Ben Le, CEO of MEMS startup mCube, explains why he wants to spend $37 million on being a supplier of sensors to Chinese ODMs and avoiding a design win with Apple or Samsung. Fabless inertial sensor startup mCube Inc. is just about to enter phase three of a startup’s progress. That’s why it has just secured $37 million of Series C venture capital, CEO Ben Lee told EE Times Europe. Lee, who joined to lead the company in January 2013 as CEO, explains that in a startup’s first phase it has a little bit of money for development work and to create a product, but no customers. In the second phase it has a product but can only support – and only listen to – a few customers. The third phase – for those that make it that far – is the growth phase where a company starts to have revenue and can expand its product and customer bases. But in that third phase it remains crucially important to keep making the right choices in terms of customers and application areas to which a company is applied. mCube (San Jose, Calif.) is going to use its $37 million Series C money to maintain focus on the entry- to mid-level smartphones in the Chinese market while pursuing innovative applications in wearable equipment and the Internet of Things, where it feels its combination MEMS sensors have an inherent advantage. The company was founded in September 2009 with the mission of commercializing a method for integrating MEMS motion sensors above electronic circuitry in a standard CMOS wafer fab using through-silicon via connections. The process includes hermetic sealing of the assembly. The inherent advantage that Lee talks about is primarily size. The use of wafer bonding and through-silicon-vias (TSVs) allows mCube to produce a combination inertial sensor in a package measuring 3mm by 3mm, without needing bond wiring and bond pads inside the package. While market leaders Bosch and STMicroelectronics use traditional hybrid manufacturing techniques they have been challenged more recently by InvenSense with its stacked chip approach, Lee indicated in a slide presentation. But all three will now be challenged by mCube with is monolithic CMOS approach which can dispense with bond wire and bond pads to produce smaller size and lower parasitic capacitance resulting in better accuracy, he claimed. The approach gives mCube an advantage in terms of die size, packaged footprint, sensor accuracy and energy consumption, Lee claims. This in turn will not only let mCube steal design slots from its better-established peers in smartphones and tablet computers but will also help the company help drive wearable equipment and Internet of Things markets. mCube’s CEO, Ben Lee: “We’ve focused on the Chinese market and now have 60 to 80 active customers” Small is beautiful mCube has spent four years in the first two phases of the startup’s progress but is now easing itself into the third phase. The company has already shipped more than 60 million units into a range of smartphone, gaming and tablet reference designs since 2012 and its MEMS sensors are featured on the approved vendor lists of chipset partner – and investor – MediaTek. “We are primarily in tablets and smartphones for the Chinese market, and some Bluetooth headsets and smartwatches. We’ve focused on the Chinese market and now have 60 to 80 active customers,” said Lee. But what about high-volume, high-profile design wins in Apple and Samsung equipment that are surely the goal of every consumer electronics oriented component supplier? Lee explains why such a design win is not always good news. “Apple and Samsung tends to be a two-year design cycle. It tends to be Fig. 1: Three generational approaches to making inertial MEMS. Source: mCube. 20 Electronic Engineering Times Europe July/August 2014 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE JULAUG 2014
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