FOSTERING DEEP-TECH INNOVATION FOR AN INTERNET-OF-EVERYTHING (IOE) WORLD
HKUST spin-off company Atom Semiconductor is one beneficiary of the University’s long-term support for “technopreneurship” – the integration of deep technology with entrepreneurship. While Atom itself was only founded in 2020, the start-up specializes in fabless integrated circuit design emanating from the world-class original technologies developed by Prof. George YUAN, Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering, and his Mixed-Signal Sensory Integrated Circuits Laboratory (MIXIC) researchers over more than a decade. The company’s focus is on developing state-of-the-art high-performance analog signal-chain integrated chips and integrated digital sensor chips, with prospective impact on smartphones, consumer electronics, industrial electronics, medical electronics, and many other sectors.
As innovation in electronic technology accelerates, such chip technology is increasingly becoming a key differentiator in the Internet-of-Everything (IoE) era. However, in contrast to new businesses with products of more immediate market applicability, deep technology often involves a long lead time, encompassing the generation of creative new technologies requiring intellectual property (IP) protection as well as capital investment for technical research and development ahead of commercialization. Starting with technology incubation through guidance on and protection of IP, HKUST’s forward-looking KT ecosystem has provided on-going support over the years to move Prof. Yuan’s deep tech innovation forward to start-up readiness. Proactive KT team input has included exploring and lining up collaborative opportunities, providing information on market needs to assist business development and marketing plans, and building funding support to develop the technologies further.
After Prof. Yuan founded Atom, KT units nurtured the company in numerous ways. KT teams assisted with licensing of three core HKUST inventions (involving four patents) generated by the MIXIC Lab, giving the company its technical edge. The HKUST Entrepreneurship Fund (E-Fund), a capital investment program for promising HKUST technology start-ups, brought Atom to the attention of Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, which became the young firm’s angel co-investor along with E-Fund. Further KT support enabled Atom to join the government’s Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities in 2021-2022. In March 2022, the start-up further received subsequent pre-A round funding from several leading investors.
Total investment now amounts to close to US$15 million (equivalent to HKD$117 million), and Atom is headquartered in Hong Kong Science Park (HKSTP). There, the founding team is vigorously pursuing its vision to provide chip solutions to support customers’ innovation in the IoE future and raising Hong Kong’s technoinnovation hub profile. Branches in Shenzhen and Shanghai have also been set up.