Attendance at DAC’s sister conference, Design Automation and Test in Europe (DATE), rose this year by just under 10 per cent for its first visit to Grenoble, France. Given that the recession is still crimping business travel, that’s no bad claim.
But, as much as DATE reflects the health of European design, it also provides a showcase for the EU design model and infrastructure, one that perhaps merits closer inspection. Particularly given that one of the panels at DAC next week will focus on research in the EDA world (‘EDA Research: Stalled, Driving in Circles, or Running out of Gas?’, Wednesday, June 8, 9.00-10.30am, Room 33ABC).
Through the union’s publicly funded research programs, Europe is finding a way to foster innovation, link industry and academia, and help start-ups mature technologically.
OK, I know there’s too much red tape. The Brussels bureaucracy is horrid. But let’s go back to the last of those goals: incubating start-ups.
One company I visited with at DATE was Compaan Design of the Netherlands. It specializes in improving the efficiency with which C code is implemented. Its two tentpole displays were for work it had done with the likes of Thales, Philips and NXP Semiconductors. And the work was funded through the EU’s Catrene program for co-operative R&D in microelectronics.
So, ask yourself this question: apart from the funding involved, could a fledgling American company have been able to make such links with established names on its own while its tools were still comparatively untried? Yes, possibly. But, in these straitened times, I would suggest nowhere near so easily. Even big companies are today very cautious about how many resources they pour into unproven collaborations. They need a nudge.
This isn’t a discussion of the merits of Compaan’s software – although what I saw looked very interesting – but rather raises the issue of the infrastructure to support start-ups in the US today. Particularly since that issue is very much in the news.
President Obama’s administration has seeded the Startup America initiative and that has to be a good thing. But it strikes me as more concerned with making it easier for a young company to secure its first tranches of funding than what happens afterwards – product development in a ‘real-world’ environment, working with (and getting a foot in the door of) big industry.
And yet, such mechanisms should inevitably produce more battle-hardened innovation from the flow of start-ups that all branches of electronics have always required.
The European venture capital market still lags far behind that in the US, so there are some swings-and-roundabouts to consider. Nevertheless, there is perhaps a greater role to play in facilitating introductions and collaboration for organizations like Startup America.
And there’s one other factor worth considering. The companies that Compaan worked with already have well-established connections to electronics. But for many of today’s emerging applications, that’s much less true, and ways of seeding more cross-industry and cross-disciplinary networking are urgently needed.
To be fair, the US National Nanotechnology Initiative has blazed this trail. But who was the NNI holding a joint conference with on bridging nano-research efforts with, just before DATE started in early Spring? The EU, of course.