SiFive is pioneering a new model in the semiconductor business and to do so has raised $8.5 million in a second round of funding, led by Spark Capital.

San Francisco-based SiFive is on a mission to democratize access to custom silicon chip designs. The company’s founders invented RISC-V, a free and open instruction set architecture for modern microprocessors. It consists of all of the software instructions needed to program a microprocessor based on the RISC-V architecture. And SiFive is taking that architecture and making it easy to design the custom variants that companies need.

So far, the RISC-V foundation has 60 member companies, including Google, HP Enterprise, Microsoft, IBM, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Samsung, Microsemi, and others. SiFive has developed its Coreplex IP (intellectual property) that others can license as they design their own processors and computing systems based on RISC-V.

Osage University Partners and existing investor Sutter Hill Ventures also participated in the funding round. The new funds bring the total investment in SiFive to $13.5 million.

SiFive founders Krste Asanovic, Yunsup Lee, and Andrew Waterman created RISC-V as a new instruction set architecture (ISA), just as Intel and ARM have their own ISA. But rather than having just one company own the ISA, the RISC-V creators made their ISA open and free to use. They monetize it through customization and support, much like Linux companies do with their open source operating systems.

Above: SiFive founders Yunsup Lee (left), Krste Asanovic (middle), Andrew Waterman (right).

Image Credit: SiFive

In the first six months of availability, more than 1,000 HiFive1 software development boards have been purchased and delivered to developers in over 40 countries. Additionally, the company has engaged with multiple customers across its IP and system-on-a-chip (SoC) products, and it started shipping the industry’s first RISC-V SoC in November 2016.

“At Spark Capital, we believe technology is the great equalizer. SiFive’s singular goal of putting custom chips into the hands of everyone from startups to exploratory design teams to inventors with a healthy crowdfunding campaign resonates with our core values,” said Todd Dagres, general partner at Spark Capital, in a statement. “We are excited at the potential for SiFive to enable new and emerging sectors to bring innovative solutions to market that might otherwise never see the light of day.”

Members of the RISC-V foundation and third-party open source contributors are actively contributing to a maturing stable of software and tools.

SiFive maintains an easy to install tool chain, software development kit, and other support necessary for customers to design and make their own RISC-V chips.

In July 2016, SiFive launched its Freedom Everywhere platform — designed for microcontroller, embedded, Internet of Things, and wearable applications — and its Freedom Unleashed platform, for machine learning, storage, and networking applications. SiFive was recognized as the Startup of the Year by the 2016 ACE Awards and was recognized by the Linley Group’s Analyst Choice Awards. The team has also created a textbook to teach students about computer architecture.

Above: HiFive1 development board sells for $59.

Image Credit: SiFive

Earlier this month, SiFive launched its Coreplex IP and announced a growing ecosystem of partners, including Faraday, Microsemi, and United Design Systems, who are making SiFive Coreplex IP available to their customers. The company nearly tripled its employee base in the past year, adding leaders from Altera, ARM, Atmel, Cadence Design Systems, Cisco, Intel, Juniper, Marvell, Nvidia Qualcomm, Synopsys, and Xilinx.

“We are energized by the partnerships we have forged with our investors and their strong belief in SiFive’s mission,” said Jack Kang, the company’s vice president of product and business development, in a statement. “This investment will enable our continued growth for years to come and will allow SiFive to further establish that alternatives really matter in an era where traditional silicon vendors no longer are the most innovative in the industry.”

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