UK startups pilot semiconductor funding | Computer Weekly

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The government has launched ChipStart, a £1.3m programme providing funding to 12 UK semiconductor startups.

The two-year pilot programme, backed by the government, provides early stage companies involved in the design of semiconductors with the technical and commercial help they need to bring new products to market.

As part of the National Semiconductor Strategy, the pilot aims to provide the UK’s semiconductor industry with a pipeline of innovative startups with a route to market and seed funding.

Delivered by SiliconCatalyst.UK, the government said the programme gives companies access to bespoke chip design tools, commercial expertise, specialised mentorship, and networking opportunities with prospective investors and partners.

Minister for Technology Paul Scully said: “Semiconductors are the bedrock of our modern economy and an increasingly integral part of our lives. These firms are building on Britain’s research leadership to open doors to innovation and growth, while designing chips that could truly change the way we live our lives.”

Silicon Catalyst.UK CEO Sean Redmond said: “This is one of the most exciting times to start and grow a globally successful semiconductor company from the UK. The first group of 12 UK semiconductor startups to enter the ChipStart UK incubator have been selected from 27 applications following two rounds of intensive panel interviews made up of semiconductor startup experts from the UK and Silicon Valley. Over the next nine months, we will shape and mould these outstanding new innovative companies into the next generation of semiconductor leaders.”

Among the companies that have been announced as joining the pilot is MintNeuro, which is pioneering the use of semiconductor technology to support patients with neurological conditions by developing physical neural implants that can reduce the need for surgery.

Mignon and Vaire Computing have also joined the pilot. Both startups design hardware built to run large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) models using more efficient chips – allowing AI models to use less energy and computer resources, which could lead to more efficient training and research.

“Whether they’re innovating how we support patients with Parkinson’s or on the cusp of supercharging how AI is used, these firms are the brightest sparks in the UK’s thriving semiconductor industry,” said Scully.

However, there are a number of challenges startups will face as they work on advanced semiconductors for accelerating AI. Alex White, general manager at Softbank-backed AI startup SambaNova Systems, said: “Even with government support, building AI chips to support large language models [LLMs] isn’t a walk in the park. Designing and manufacturing chips doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a substantial pool of expertise and resources, both of which are increasingly scarce.”

According to White, AI hardware requires more than the ability to create the powerful AI chips. “It’s about creating efficient, optimised hardware designed to power LLMs at scale: enabling more enterprises to deploy at significantly lower cost, while unlocking the full potential and benefits of these models.”

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