[As part of the Globe & Mail Report on Business articles I’ve recently written is one on an intriguing Canadian-owned company that says it has a microchip that can replace silicon and be 10 times more powerful. If the claims are true, POET Technologies has a very bright future. Its chief scientist, a Canadian, has spent close to 30 years devoted to this project, making this a potentially terrific human interest story as well. The excerpt of the article here is about POET’s attempt to sell itself to companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. The article was published on July 10, 2013. FULL DISCLOSURE: Since reporting on this company, I’ve taken a long position in its stock — listed as PTK on the Toronto Stock Exchange’s notorious Venture Index, not the place most people would opt to put their money :)]
Geoff Taylor has spent three decades building what he believes is a better microchip. Although silicon has powered an explosion in digital technology, Dr. Taylor is among the scientists who believe the chemical element is near the end of its shelf life. A native of Mississauga, Dr. Taylor has created a microchip at his laboratory at the University of Connecticut that is made of gallium arsenide (GaAs), a widely available chemical compound that the professor of electrical engineering and photonics says has shown a “10-to-1 advantage” in performance over silicon.
With his invention nearly complete, his hope now is to draw attention and dollars from companies whose wealth has derived from the production of silicon chips.
Dr. Taylor’s invention is owned by POET Technologies Inc., which changed its name from Opel Technologies Inc. in June. Based in Toronto and publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Venture Composite Index, POET was a multimillion-dollar solar company until last year, when it sold off its solar assets to focus on developing and selling Dr. Taylor’s chips. It has 15 employees, most of them at the Connecticut lab, and a market capitalization of $61-million.
Led by its co-founder, Dr. Taylor, POET is preparing to approach industry-leading chip manufacturers in Silicon Valley this summer, and its pitch will be centred on the demise of silicon.
“The only thing that would give them pause is the challenge of how do you mastermind it, and get your arms around it. It’s a challenge to have it move into place,” Dr. Taylor says of the technology, whose acronym stands for planar opto electronic technology, and which he sees as a successor to silicon microchips.
POET, the company, possesses more than 35 patents related to the technology, which makes it difficult for silicon behemoths Intel or IBM to duplicate. An aim for POET in the coming months is to find partners interested in purchasing or licensing Dr. Taylor’s semiconductor chips. However, persuading large businesses – let alone entire industries – to alter course is a gargantuan undertaking.
What Dr. Taylor is banking on silicon becoming unable to deliver faster performance to a global market addicted to digital speed.
“The chip makers were much less likely to be interested in this kind of a solution until they came to terms with their own limitations, which in the silicon industry is now becoming quite obvious to anybody involved in the sector,” says Dr. Taylor, 68, who has degrees from Queen’s University and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Toronto. “There is a serious wall of problems for which there doesn’t appear to be any solutions.”
Still, POET hasn’t had any takers even though the company has been around since 2000 and Dr. Taylor’s work has been funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense. The company says defence manufacturer BAE Systems and others have validated the platform “and are developing solutions to be deployed into the market by early fall,” but proving that the technology can be replicated in large volumes is one of the obstacles that POET believes it will be asked to prove.
“We haven’t beaten on doors yet to try to coax them over to our side. We’re just starting to do that now,” Dr. Taylor says of microchip manufacturers in California. “We didn’t want to do that until we had firm results that couldn’t be disputed.”
The company will also need to show that products made with POET chips cost less and perform better than their silicon counterparts. Dr. Taylor believes the impact on consumer products will be immense, saying that cellphones will require only one chip when right now they’re made with several. That reduction in parts will lead to a dramatic increase in speed and a deep cut in price. “It costs $500 or $600 for an iPhone, but with this technology you’d be starting off at around one-third of that price,” Dr. Taylor says.
The company believes its chips “could easily be a $10-billion opportunity” if one or more Silicon Valley companies begin to develop devices made with them.
Read the rest of the article in the Globe & Mail.