Zelenograd Nanotechnology Center: creating technology startups and developing innovative production
For two years after completion of installation of the main process equipment in our production center, we went through a difficult path of development of the technology, which included refinement of processes and routes, selection of materials, the training of specialists. The centers for the assembly and packaging and for testing of integrated circuits and MEMS were established. Certifications of the testing center and of quality management system of production were carried out. Currently, the production division not only manufactures our products, but also operates as a foundry for third-party customers. For example, we implement contract manufacturing of optical matrices and power integrated circuits – IGBT, etc. It has allowed to achieve payback of current production costs.
The development of new products, R&D for customers are a profitable business, which we intend to further develop, because we have our own modern factory providing a significant reduction in the cost of prototyping, pilot and mass production.
First, we have a full-scale industrial line for the manufacturing of MEMS with implementation of full cycle of operations from marking of wafers to functional control of structures. Second, the testing center is equipped with modern complex of control and measuring devices for high-temperature electronics, which allows to carry out testing both chips on the wafers and packaged devices. We also develop a new division of industrial advanced packaging. The Flip Chip process is already mastered, in the future we plan to introduce the Through Silicon Via (TSV) technology too. The project is implemented jointly with the Ruselectronics, MIET and Technounity innovative cluster.
Among the new products,
I would like to mention our intelligent sensors and processing circuits for them, in particular, encoders. We have already formed a pool of orders for such products from more than 20 companies. We are developing the manufacturing from the large-scale integrated circuit of encoder to the finished product in a package, which has the highest added value and is highly demanded in the market. It is planned that the creation of devices on the basis of our chips will be the main area of development of our product portfolio. The demand for such devices is on the market for civilian equipment, and special areas. The demand for such devices is significant both in the consumer market and in special areas.
What are the main priorities for the development of the nanotechnology centre?
We have defined four priority business areas for the next 5–6 years. The first one is to create the best in Russia technology platform for the manufacturing of MEMS with development of not only own product range, but with active participation of third-party customers. We strive to be an open foundry with own standard cell libraries, where any customer or developer of MEMS can order a prototype and then a serial product. ZNTC has the necessary infrastructure, both external and internal, and industrial grade equipment. Cooperation with Elektropribor and Girooptika from Saint-Petersburg and with design centers specializing in the development of MEMS is already established.
The second business area relates to high temperature electronics. It is relevant due to the fact that the sensors and signal processing ICs are located closer and closer to the actuators, and therefore, they should operate at increasingly high temperatures. In cooperation with the Mikron and MIET, we have completed the first phase of the project to produce high temperature electronics. It is crucial that our products are based on mass and cheap silicon technology, and not on the use of special materials.
The third business area is the production of photonics components. According to our estimates, this segment in the coming years will grow faster than the market for conventional electronic components. Since optoelectronics is mainly supplied to Russia from abroad, so there are good prospects for import substitution. The project is implemented in cooperation with MIET, Ruselectronics and other partners. It is planned to launch in ZNTC a line for the production of integrated optoelectronic devices based on silicon technology. In the first phase, two startups are created, which will develop a separate technological units and integrate them in the process routes. We will start with the splitters and optoelectronic switches, and in the future will develop new products for telecommunications and other applications, targeting both the consumer market and special applications.
And finally, the fourth business area – creation of technology startups – is traditional for FIEP’s nanotechnology centers. A new trend in this area is the diversification of the portfolio, which, besides micro- and nanoelectronics now includes the development of biomedical products.
Does product range of the nanocenter develop in the framework of project companies?
Only partly. Manufacturing of certain devices requires certifications, existence of a quality management system, various licenses, which is difficult for a startup. I believe that the project companies should focus on development of products on the basis of our chips and on launching them on the market. We are planning to launch several such startups in the near future.
How developed is the market of startups in Russia?
Such market has developed in the field of information technology, and the Russian IT-startups are demanded by both Russian and major international companies. Technology startups in the field of micro- and nanoelectronics require larger investments with higher risks. Nevertheless, we specialize in the development of technological companies. We use the competencies of other nanotechnology centers, launch joint projects, which proved to be very effective, as it reduces risk and the financial burden on each of the investors. We are actively cooperating with the nanotechnology centers of Troitsk, Ulyanovsk, Saransk, Dubna.
What is the role of nanotechnology centers in the development of innovative economy?
Suffice to say that the network of nanotechnology centers have generated about 300 active technology startups. According to our estimates, no more than 500 such companies operate in the whole country. I would like to emphasize that the nanotechnology centers attract private investments in their projects, not public money, and we are very serious about the examination before making a decision about investing. It is significant that other development institutions such as Skolkovo Foundation and the Fund for promotion of innovation often also participate in the financing of our portfolio companies. Thus, the contribution of nanotechnology centers in the development of startups is quite significant.
What are the requirements for startups and how long is the examination?
In addition to the viability of the business idea, it is important that along with the developers the team includes an entrepreneur, who would deal with marketing issues and understand how the startup will make money. If needed, we find such an entrepreneur or offer someone from management of our center. It is necessary that the startup was managed by the director, who is responsible not for product but for business development.
As for the timing between the arrival of the company or people with idea and making a decision about investing, on average it takes three months. Two meetings of investment committee, examination by our or involved experts, and also the board of directors are held during this time. Only two representatives of the nanotechnology center are members of the constantly acting investment committee, and the other members are independent experts from other companies. Final decision is made by the board of directors, which members are representatives of the cofounders – FIEP and Zelenograd Innovation and Technology Center.
How ZNTC participates in the management of portfolio companies?
The meeting of founders with the report of the CEO on results and development plans is annually held. The investments of the nanotechnology center, are subject to strict controls and targeted spending. For example, in the first stage resources are allocated primarily to the development of technology to show that it has prospects.
What startups of ZNTC have achieved the highest technological or commercial progress?
The most commercially successful project is the NPP IIS with well-known brand of PICASO 3D, which develops 3D printers. For three years the company sold over 2000 printers, occupying about 15% in the appropriate segment of the market of 3D printers. This project doesn't need our further support, therefore we are negotiating the sale of our stake.
Also I would like to mention the companies developing optoelectronic devices. They started to work recently and will develop today's highly competitive technology with the full use of the infrastructure of the nanotechnology center. Such projects are beneficial to us, because, first, they use our chip production capacities, and secondly, after achievement of a certain level of development, we will be able to sell them profitably.
Who might be interested in buying a technology company?
At the stage of formation of the startup's business model, we assess the prospects and ways of the future exit of the nanotechnology center. There are different options of exit. For example, in the case of NPP IIS, we discuss the purchase of our share by cofounders. High-tech startups that develop electronic components and devices, can also find their buyers, for example, members of Ruselectronics group. When technologies will be developed at least up to the stage of prototyping and production of small series, we will going to discuss their future. It is also possible that we won't sell our stake in the companies that intense use production capacities of the center, and will receive dividends. Each case is discussed individually with the co-founders and FIEP.
What are the areas of diversification of the startups portfolio?
Biomedical technology has become a new area for us. Currently, several startups work in this area. In particular, the development of hemostatic materials is quite successfully. We have created a well-equipped laboratory and we hope that it will be the base for several biomedical startups. The second area of diversification is the development of devices based on our components, for example, of the already mentioned encoders.
Who are the main technological partners of the ZNTC?
NIIME and Mikron are important partners for us. In cooperation with Pulsar we develop the production of combined bipolar ICs. Together with Elektropribor and Girooptika we develop control circuits and inertial systems for silicon sensing elements using MEMS technology for gyroscopes and accelerometers. We are actively developing relationships with institutes of the Fraunhofer Society, in particular, in MEMS area. We have joint projects, when one part of the work is done in Germany and the other part – in Russia with consolidation of the results. We believe that the integration into the global technology flows is very important in order to feel the competitive environment, the level of technology. Several joint international projects are conducted together with the MIET, for example, the development Minimal Fab with Japanese companies Yokogawa and Tokyo Boeki. With the end of 2016, together with MIET we started to cooperate with IMEC. In this project, the creation of a modern minifab is discussed, which would expand opportunities for research and development of new technologies and training of highly qualified specialists in the university.
Did international sanctions affected the development of ZNTC?
At some stage there were difficulties with the supply of materials, but now the problem is solved. ZNTC is an open public company which should not have limitations in obtaining technologies, equipment and materials of any complexity from foreign suppliers. We hope that we will continue to operate in this regime.
It is true that ZNTC has all necessary for further development?
Yes, we are confident about the future. We have built a clear business and technology development plans. We invite active developers, companies, graduates of technical universities to work together to create and develop technology startups.
Interview: Dmitry Gudilin