Monday, March 22, 2004
Interview: Jeff Hilbert, Wispry
Irvine-based Wispry (www.wispry.com) announced a Series A funding round of $1M from the Tech Coast Angeles last week. I caught up with Jeff Hilbert, President and CEO of the company, to get an idea of what Wispry is working on and their plans.
BK: What is Wispry, and what are you developing?
JH: Wispry is a fab-less product company that designs and markets hardware components and modules to radio frequency (RF) system manufacturers of voice and data communications and acquisition products.
Our products are based on the company's core competency in RF micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology. By using RF-MEMS to implement our products, we are able to provide system manufacturers with products having unique performance, cost and power consumption characteristics.
Wispry's initial product line is a family of RF MEMS switches targeted at wireless applications. These applications include mode switching, antenna diversity, and configurable power amplifiers for current and next generation (multi-band) global phones; mobile wireless subsystems and wireless base stations.
We have been providing customers with product samples for over a year and are actively engaged with approximately 15 companies at present.
BK: What's your background, and what's the story behind Wispry's spinoff from Coventor?
JH: I spent over 20 years in the semiconductor industry in a variety of technical and senior management positions with companies such as LSI Logic, AMCC, Motorola, ITT and Harris. I was at LSI Logic running their worldwide ASIC engineering organization when, in 1998, I became interested in MEMS and had the opportunity to join Coventor (then named Microcosm Technologies).
At Coventor, beginning in 1999, we started to develop RF-MEMS intellectual property (IP) with the intention of licensing the IP to Coventor's large base of software and engineering services customers. However, due to the general downturn in the high tech market that occurred in 2001-2002, Coventor decided to re-focus on its core MEMS software design tool business. In October of 2002, Wispry was spun off and we began to productize the IP the team had been developing since 1999.
BK: What's your company's competitive advantage, and do you see lots of competition in this market?
JH: At the individual product level, utilizing RF-MEMS allows us to avoid the seemingly inescapable trade-offs that other technologies require. For example, our RF switch products concurrently provide low insertion loss, high isolation and extreme linearity across a broad range of operating frequencies, while reducing size and cost.
At a higher level, we provide our customers with a unique (for MEMS) integration capability that allows us to work with customers at the product roadmap level. This capability also provides customers with a more cost-effective integration alternative whether its at the individual die, module or board level.
The markets that we are addressing are highly competitive and are under continuing integration and cost reduction pressure. We believe that our main competition are a number of the non-MEMS, incumbant suppliers in the market versus any of the other RF-MEMS and speciality materials start-ups.
BK: How did you decide to work with the Tech Coast Angels, and how have you found that experience so far?
JH: We initially began our search for capital by talking with a number of large venture firms. Based on the feedback we received, it became clear that we were viewed as being earlier stage and had captial requirements that were not the best fit for such firms, particularly given the market conditions in early 2003. We received several recommendations that we consider an initial angel round of funding. We became aware of Tech Coast Angels by attending a number of local venture events and in late January 2003, we submitted a funding application to the Tech Coast Angels via their web site.
We have found working with Tech Coast Angels to be a very positive experience. One of the greatest challenges has also brought some of the greatest rewards. By needing to convince many individual investors with very diverse backgrounds and interests to make an investment, we have had to really crystalize our vision and refine our marketing and product strategy. We now have a much better and more realistic product and market plan. We continue to benefit from the experience base the Tech Coast Angels brings through their participation on our Board and active involvement with individual investors.
BK: How long had you been looking for capital before coming across the TCA?
JH: We had been looking for capital for about 3 months before coming across the TCA.
BK: Finally, what are you planning to use the new capital injection for?
JH: The new capital will be used to support production release of our initial products, to accelerate product development and expand our sales and marketing efforts.