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News : Innovation Last Updated: Oct 14, 2010 - 7:34:01 AM


University of Limerick spinout ChipSensors sold to US firm; Second UL spinout sale raises questions on huge Irish public investment in research
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Oct 13, 2010 - 9:43:46 AM

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US firm Silicon Laboratories which is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, announced on Tuesday the acquisition of spinout ChipSensors Limited, an early stage technology company, based at the University of Limerick. Last April another spinout firm in Limerick, Stokes Bio, was sold to a US firm. The sales raise questions about the payback from the multi-billion euro Irish public investment in third level research.

Silicon Laboratories, based in Austin, Texas, said ChipSensors creates innovative single-chip CMOS sensors designed to detect temperature, humidity and gases. ChipSensors’ technology complements Silicon Labs’ touch, proximity sensing and recently acquired MEMS technology, expanding the company’s capabilities in CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor- - a technology for constructing integrated circuits-based sensors).

The US firm says ChipSensors, a fabless semiconductor company, has an experienced management and technology team with extensive materials science and mixed-signal design expertise. The company has leveraged these capabilities to develop novel sensor technology that addresses a wide range of target markets such as thermostats, automotive climate control, printers, wireless sensor networks, security systems, gas leak detectors, white goods, and food and drug transportation.

Historically, sensors have been manufactured using specialized materials and manufacturing processes that demand external support circuitry and post-assembly calibration. ChipSensors’ proprietary, patented technology can enable the sensors, signal conditioning circuits and RF transceiver functions, together with the microcontroller and memory, to be integrated and calibrated in a single CMOS IC. These highly integrated devices provide a cost-effective solution to precision sensing for high-volume applications.

"Joining forces with Silicon Labs provides us with an exceptional opportunity to both collaborate with a team that has a reputation for the highest caliber mixed-signal engineering and potentially grow the design team in Ireland to take advantage of the strong local technical talent," said Tim Cummins, CEO and founder of ChipSensors.

Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Equity Fund had a 40% shareholding in ChipSensor. The total sale price is reported to be around €10m.

The company was launched in 2005 after securing an initial investment of €100,000 from the Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Equity Fund - - an early stage equity fund supported by Bank of Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and private investors.

The Government has put faith and public money in its 'smart economy' strategy and Finfacts has raised questions about the plan first announced in 2006 to be recognised as a 'world class knowledge economy' by 2013.

It is not a surprise that startup high tech firms would aspire to be acquired by bigger US firms. However, while it may be a good move for the promoters and investors to cash-out, it highlights the difficulty of public policy achieving the goal of developing and funding firms that can become scalable and contribute value-added back to the Irish economy.

Silicon Laboratories hasn't said that it is planning to invest in and expand the ChipSensors operation in Ireland.

Early stage takeovers are usually motivated to acquire the technology.

SEE: Finfacts article, Aug 2010; Irish Innovation: Ireland banking on the faith-based smart economy strategy

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