India emerges as a global hub for RISC-V design, says Sequoia-backed fabless startup

Prasanth Aby Thomas, DIGITIMES, Bangalore 0


India is one of the fastest-growing countries in the technology segment. The recent push to encourage the semiconductor industry is adding impetus to this, with OSAT businesses being set up.

Taking this one step further, G S Madhusudan, CEO of the Chennai-based startup InCore Semiconductors, pointed out that India is poised to be the epicenter for RISC-V chip design. This is significant as some of the major companies like Meta recently expressed their interest in RISC-V, hinting at moving away from x86 architecture.

"India, for instance, accounts for 30 to 40 percent of chip design activities globally, with a higher percentage in physical design," Madhusudan said. "Companies like Google have shifted their physical design teams to India. Hence, India is becoming a design epicenter, especially in the RISC-V space. Given this context, an Indian core supplier, integrated with major design companies like TCS, HCL, Tessolve, and Wipro, becomes a preferable choice."

InCore, established in 2018 and supported by funding from PeakXV Partners (formerly Sequoia Capital India), was created with the mission to harness the expertise and insights gained from the Shakti Microprocessor project at IIT Madras. This initiative aims to innovate and develop advanced commercial processor technologies.

Standing out with configurability

Fundamentally, there are several key players in this space - SiFive in Taiwan, Codasip in the UK, and companies like Imagination Technologies. MIPS is also entering the market. Chinese and Russian competitors generally don't cater to global markets due to internal policies. In contrast, most companies focus broadly on embedded spaces and IP cores.

"InCore's competitive edge is derived from its strategic positioning within one of the key markets and its integration within a broader, more expansive ecosystem compared to our rivals," explained Madhusudan. "While there is no shortage of global talent, what sets us apart is not solely the caliber of our coding. It's our commitment to customer service, the simplicity with which features can be integrated, and the degree of customization we offer."

InCore Semiconductors stands out for its high configurability. In contrast to its competitors, who offer a range of 20 to 30 distinct cores, InCore offers access to core generators. As a result, each client benefits from a core that is both tailor-made and optimized for their specific needs. This level of automation is not limited to core generation - it extends to the realms of documentation and verification. However, the company emphasizes that the core is just one aspect of its offerings—the entirety of the ecosystem holds equal significance in its service model.

Market strategy

InCore's strategic focus is on leveraging its India-based operations to target local market segments initially, which facilitates easier validation of its products. Despite this local focus, it has attracted interest from the international aerospace and automotive industries in recent years. The company has recently achieved a notable design win and is collaborating with partners to deliver tailored solutions to these markets.

"These partnerships are not just about providing core technology; they are also about co-creating solutions that result in semi-integrated products similar to Foxconn's model, which is attractive to many Indian companies looking for high-margin opportunities," Madhusudan said. "InCore's approach allows them to offer ready-made solutions that can be easily customized to meet the specific needs of their clients, thereby reducing time to market and minimizing risk."

InCore is addressing the challenges faced by Indian service companies, particularly the linear revenue model that relies on scaling teams for additional chip designs. They advocate for a model where revenue growth is achieved through standardized solutions that can be adapted for multiple customers.

Customer satisfaction

InCore Semiconductors prioritizes customer success by providing extensive support from the initial chip design phase to the final stages of application development. InCore places importance on informing customers about the nuances of RISC-V technology, ensuring a smooth integration process.

"As a fabless company, we specialize in chip design while leveraging the expertise of established multinational corporations for physical design, silicon validation, and volume production," Madhusudan said. "We have forged partnerships that enable us to fulfill large-scale supply commitments, such as delivering 20 million units for certain clients."

InCore aims to function as a comprehensive solutions provider, overseeing the progression from initial specifications to the software that follows silicon production. The effectiveness of InCore's operations is attributed to a carefully built ecosystem of partners over several years, which facilitates complete solutions and optimizes each partner's contribution.

The founding team at InCore Semiconductors. Credit: InCore.

The founding team at InCore Semiconductors. Credit: InCore.