UC Berkeley entrepreneurs impress venture capitalists at business plan competition

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

BERKELEY--An innovative software program that will save semiconductor manufacturers billions of dollars is the winner of a business plan competition held recently at the University of California, Berkeley.

The technology, created by a group of UC Berkeley business and engineering students, will dramatically cut the cost and time required to develop semiconductors. The process, which uses three-dimensional software to measure wafers, marks a dramatic shift in semiconductor production from expensive hardware manufacturing to low-cost software automation.

"Anytime software replaces hardware there has been an incredible boom in productivity," said Nick Sturiale, an MBA student at the Haas School of Business and CEO of the team's company, Timbre Technologies. "Our product relieves the huge bottleneck that exists in today's quality assurance process in semiconductor production."

Timbre Technologies beat out seven other groups that included students from various campus disciplines. The teams presented business plans to a prestigious panel of Silicon Valley venture capitalists and high-tech professionals during the first-ever competition, held at the Haas School.

A beta version of Timbre's software currently is being tested by National Semiconductor. Timbre was approached by several venture capital firms during the competition and hopes to secure funding by the end of the summer. Its product should be ready for sale by the end of the year.

"Timbre's technology has the potential of saving semiconductor companies not only billions of dollars but also months in production time in an industry where success is measured in weeks," said Neil Weintraut of 21st Century Internet Venture Partners and one of the judges for the competition. "Timbre has an innovation that is significant over prevailing methods of semiconductor process analysis."

The judges were looking for plans that satisfied significant customer needs, addressed potentially large markets and have the people, strategy and innovation needed to develop into a major operation. As the No. 1 plan, Timbre received the largest chunk of a $10,000 prize split among the top three teams.

The second runner-up in the competition was Alloptic, creator of a low-cost fiber optic system designed to break the bandwidth jam currently plaguing providers of telephone, cable and wireless services. The market for this technology is massive given the hundreds of billions of dollars generated globally by the telecommunications industry.

The third place People's Choice Award was given to muNetix, manufacturer of ultra-small power supplies, an enabling technology for our increasingly mobile society.

The competition provided students with experience in developing products and writing business plans in a realistic atmosphere. It also provided an opportunity for venture capitalists to tap into and invest in cutting-edge ideas being developed by UC Berkeley students.

"Companies know that UC Berkeley is a priceless resource for new technology and novel business ideas," said Haas Associate Dean Jay Stowsky. "For Cal students, this interaction means access to more learning and research opportunities, as well as on-the-job training and solid contacts for future employment. For companies, it means enhanced access to the world-class research, technology, expertise and graduates that the university produces each year. It's a win-win-win situation, for students, for companies and for the economy."

"The Haas students are unique in that the vast majority have such great operating and working experience," said competition judge Susan Mason from Onset Ventures." They bring a real-world perspective to the plans, which makes them much more appealing to me as a venture capitalist."


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