SiFive, a startup that wants to democratize custom silicon chip design, has appointed former Intel veteran Naveed Sherwani as its CEO.
The San Francisco company is pioneering a new model in the semiconductor business and recently raised $8.5 million in a second round of funding, led by Spark Capital.
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 65 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.
“SiFive has the opportunity to lead a revolution in the semiconductor industry,” Sherwani said, in a statement. “If we are able to realize our mission of democratizing the design process, the entire spectrum of innovation will shift from a handful of centralized design centers to every corner of the world. When this happens, our industry will see a renaissance of new ideas, brought to life by new talent attracted by the prospect of changing the status quo.”
Sherwani has 25 years of chip industry experience. He has been involved in the development of more than 300 chips at places such as Intel, Brite Semiconductor, and Open Silicon.
In an email to VentureBeat, Sherwani said he has been watching the “RISC-V revolution” and saw a chance to do something in hardware that hasn’t been done before: make it so easy to develop a chip that two people in a garage can do it. He thinks a true transformation is in the works.
“The industry needs to change if it is to survive,” he said in the email. “If we don’t do anything, we will end up like the steel industry. When SiFive asked me to join, I picked 40 people from my network and called them. Two things happened: They all knew about RISC-V; second, they all agreed the concept had merit and tremendous potential. In my mind, SiFive, founded by the inventors of RISC-V, has the best chance to make this revolution happen.”
Stefan Dyckerhoff, who had held the top spot at the company since its inception, will remain a member of the SiFive board.
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.
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.
“Naveed brings a lifetime of experience not only in the semiconductor and open source sectors, but also in growing successful startups into industry leaders,” Dyckerhoff said, in a statement. “SiFive has achieved significant industry milestones since its founding, and we continue to drive innovations that are leveling the playing field for those priced out of the traditional silicon market. We are excited to have Naveed join the team, and look forward to further growth under his leadership.”