Thursday, August 20, 2020

Karachi's NED University Alum's Startup Has Raised $190 Million to Challenge ARM's Dominance

Silicon Valley based SiFive, a technology startup headed by NED University alumnus Dr. Naveed Sherwani, has raised $60 million in series E round, bringing the total raised to $190 million to date. This round is led by SK Hynix, joined by new investor Prosperity7 Ventures, with additional funding from existing investors, Sutter Hill Ventures, Western Digital Capital, Qualcomm Ventures, Intel Capital, Osage University Partners, and Spark Capital. The Silicon Valley company offers open-source RISC V processor core designs for custom and semi-custom chips used in a broad range of applications from smartphones and communications chips to IoT (Internet of Things), data centers and cloud computing. This market currently is dominated by proprietary Intel and Advanced RISC Machines (ARM) architectures. Availability of open-source processor architecture like RISC V has gained particular significance now because of the ongoing US-China technology war.

Dr. Naveed Sherwani
SiFive was originally founded by Andrew Waterman, Krste Asanovic and Yunsup Leethe of the University of California at Berkeley. Their team developed open-source instruction set architecture (ISA) for Reduced Instruction Set Computing V (RISC V). RISC V design is freely available under Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) that was first introduced for Berkeley's open source UNIX operating system and open software tools. BSD license permits development of derivative intellectual property (IP) and products. It offers the advantage of having a large open-source community contribute to its continuous development and innovation.

ARM architecture is owned and controlled by ARM Holdings which charges license fees for its use. RISC V architecture, on the other hand, is available as open-source and royalty-free. While the use of RISC V specifications and instruction set architecture (ISA) can be used by companies for in-house designs royalty-free,  SiFive sells is its core design and IP (intellectual property) based on this architecture. The company's IP Cores are the most widely deployed RISC-V cores in the world. SiFive Core IP is verified and delivered in Verilog for custom SoC (System on Chip) designs.

Availability of open-source processor architecture has gained significance because of the ongoing US-China technology war. RISC-V can be used freely by anyone in the world, and Chinese companies are particularly interested in it because it is a potential alternative to Intel and ARM. Kevin Wolf, former assistant secretary of the US Department of Commerce, said that technology that has been published for anyone to use is not regulated by the US Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and is not subject to the entity list, according to a report in SemiMedia.

In the midst of the US-China trade war, Dr. Naveed Sherwani sees a huge opportunity for SiFive business in China. He has been quoted in the media as saying: “We plan to expand the Chinese market significantly. The trade war has convinced China to build more chips inside China, and we have helped and benefited a lot. About 3-4 years ago, we realized that the trade war will be inevitable, so we decided to set up a completely independent company in China."

To seize this opportunity, Dr. Sherwani has set up Shanghai SaiFang Technology Company as an independent company in China.  SiFive holds less than 20% of this company's shares. If SiFive is completely blocked by US government in the future, SiFive China can still serve Chinese customers. SiFive will release a 5G chip based on RISC-V architecture in the near future. Although these chips cannot be directly exported to China, the design can be transferred to SiFive China, and the local team is responsible for building chips in China, according to SemiMedia.

Dr. Naveed Sherwani is a serial entrepreneur with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Karachi's NED Engineering University in 1983. He has a Ph.D. in computer engineering from University of Nebraska. He has taught at Western Michigan University and authored four books and over 100 papers. Sherwani headed Intel's ASIC division before starting Open Silicon, a fabless semiconductor company that offered turn-key custom ASIC solutions. He was the CEO of Peernova before joining SiFive as its chief executive officer.

NED University alumni Idris Kothari and Saeed Kazmi are among the early pioneering duo in the world of technology startups in Silicon Valley. Since 1980s, they have started, built and sold several technology companies, including VPNet, Silicon Design and VIA Technology. They are currently running Vertical Systems Inc. which has a development center in Pakistan.

Dr. Naveed Sherwani is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of Pakistani origin in Silicon Valley. His startups have solved real pain points faced by buyers of computer and communication chips. Naveed and his wife Sabahat Rafiq also volunteer time for and contribute to Silicon Valley community and support education in Pakistan. Other successful NED alumni in Silicon Valley include Raghib Husain (Cavium/Marvel)Safwan Shah (PayActiv), Ashraf Habibullah (CSI), Rehan Jalil ( and Khalid Raza (Viptela). They all serve to inspire NEDians and Pakistanis everywhere.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Invest in Pakistan Summit in Silicon Valley

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Pakistani-American VC Asad Jamal Invested Early in Baidu

Pakistani Students Win First Place in Stanford Design Contest

Pakistanis Win AI Family Challenge in Silicon Valley

Pakistani Gamer Wins ESPN E-sports Player of the Year Award

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Riaz Haq said...

Shivaram Venkatesh Nellaiappan, Sr. Marketing Engineer at SiFive—November 14, 2019

Our SiFive Tech Symposiums in Pakistan Drew Over 2,500 Attendees!

SiFive’s Tech Symposiums in Pakistan were a huge success, with the participation of more than 2,500 people from across the country. One of the symposiums was held at the NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi, and the other took place at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore. We are grateful to both of these universities for co-hosting these events with us, and to Lampro Mellon for partnering with us. All three were instrumental in making these symposiums world-class events. Attendees included students and professors, as well as delegations from federal and state governments of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The policy-making officials from the IT and education ministry also participated very actively in the symposiums. Everyone was extremely motivated and enthusiastic to learn more about the RISC-V ISA and the latest innovations. There were informative and engaging presentations by Naveed Sherwani (President & CEO), Krste Asanovic (Co-Founder & Chief Architect), Yunsup Lee (Co-Founder & CTO), Thomas Xu (CEO, SiFive China), Shafy Eltoukhy (SVP, Silicon BU), Anand Bariya (VP, Engineering), Muhammad Ahmed (Architect) and many others.

The symposium witnessed the first and formal adoption of RISC-V as the architecture of choice for all public universities in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. An MOU was signed in the presence of HE Sardar Usman Buzdar (Chief Minister of Punjab), Mr. Raja Humayun (Minister of Higher Education, Punjab Province), Krste Asanovic (SiFive), Naveed Sherwani (SiFive), Sabahat Rafiq (CEO, Lampro Mellon), Thomas Xu (SiFive China), Dr. Shafy Elthouky (SiFive), Chairman of Punjab Planning Division, Chairman of Punjab Higher Education Commission, Vice Chancellor of UET Lahore, Mr. Farooq Arshad (PTI Information Secretary), among other distinguished guests in Lahore.

Riaz Haq said...

#Nvidia to buy ARM Holdings from #SoftBank for $40 billion. ARM embedded processor cores are widely used in custom SOCs. #SiliconValley chip giant projected about 46% growth in revenue for the third quarter in its last earnings report. #semiconductor

SoftBank will sell Arm to Nvidia in a $40 billion deal, the companies announced Sunday night

Arm designs the architecture for mobile chips used in almost every mobile device in the world, from the iPhone to just practically every Android device.

SoftBank bought Arm for $31.4 billion in 2016, and the sale is seen as a move to raise much-needed cash as it has recently lost a significant amount of money in its high-profile investments in companies like WeWork and Uber.

Chipmaker Nvidia has agreed to buy Arm Holdings, a designer of chips for mobile phones, from SoftBank in a deal worth $40 billion, the companies announced Sunday. The deal will include $21.5 billion in Nvidia stock and $12 billion in cash, including $2 billion payable at signing.

Softbank acquired Arm in 2016 for $31.4 billion in 2016 in one of its largest acquisitions ever. Arm is best known as the designer of an architecture used in chips in most mobile phones, including the Qualcomm chips used in most Android phones, as well as Apple’s iPhone. Apple is also planning to shift its Mac computers from Intel chips to an Arm-based design.

Nvidia, whose chips are widely used to support graphics and artificial intelligence applications, including for self-driving vehicles, pledged that it would “continue Arm’s open-licensing model and customer neutrality.”

SoftBank bought Arm as an investment in the so-called Internet of Things -- the idea that wireless connectivity among everyday items such as refrigerators, cars and other devices would lead to useful new scenarios.

At the time, Softbank Chairman Masayoshi Son told reporters, “This is a company I always admired for the last 10 years...This is the company I wanted to make part of SofBbank. I am so happy.”

However, SoftBank’s finances have deteriorated this year as the company has lost money on investments in companies like WeWork and Uber. More recently, the company’s shares lost value as it was reported that it had taken some large stakes in tech giants, which have suffered a loss in stock market value in early September. It’s unclear how much money SoftBank will actually make on the sale, since it has likely invested a lot in Arm since the acquisition.

The company is also looking for cash to help start-ups it invested in through its Vision Fund, many of which have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Earlier this summer it announced it would sell up to $21 billion of its stake in T-Mobile.

Meanwhile, Nvidia is on an absolute tear, thanks in part to a boom in video games due to the pandemic. This week, it will launch a new graphics card for PCs that shows promising performance for PC gamers. The company projected about 46% growth in revenue for the third quarter in its last earnings report.