These Semiconductor Startups Drove the Capital Region to an NSF Seed Funding Record
The federal agency chiefly responsible for driving innovation and commercialization in the private marketplace awarded a record sum of seed funding to Capital Region startups in fiscal 2020, with advanced-stage semiconductor R&D boosting the award total, according to a Center for Economic Growth (CEG) analysis of preliminary data from the Small Business Administration.
In fiscal 2020, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $2.23 million in seed funding to four Capital Region startups through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. That was more than double the amount of SBIR and STTR funds the NSF awarded in the region’s eight counties the previous year and the most on record1. The previous high was set in 2004, when the award total was $1.6 million in current dollars, or $2.19 million in 2020 dollars.
NSF is a non-procuring agency. Unlike other NASA, the Department of Defense and other agencies, NSF rarely awards SBIR and STTR grants with the goal of purchasing the innovations the funding supports. NSF also supports basic research at non-business research institutions such as the SUNY Research Foundation and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Health Research Inc. In 2020, the NSF’s grant obligations awarded to non-businesses for projects performed in the eight counties totaled $22.8 million in 2020, according to USASpending.gov data.
Two local semiconductor startups received Phase II awards for continued research. They were:
Lux Semiconductors in Albany received $999,755 to research a semiconductor recrystallization technology for flexible electronics. Lux is patterning silicon circuits directly into flexible silicon via a thin film recrystallization process. The Phase II funding will improve the throughput and quality of a prototype recrystallization processes for a pilot-scale recrystallization system. The flexible silicon substrates it makes will be applied to integrated circuit fabrication of silicon components needed for fully patterned system-on-foil electronics. Lux received a $224,949 Phase I SBIR award in 2018.
“Lux Semiconductors is pioneering a novel ‘system-on-foil’ platform to serve as a next generation printed circuit board for advanced electronics. System-on-foil provides a high density interconnect system with active silicon circuity to pack chips closer together for higher performance and smaller size,” said Lux Semiconductors CEO Shane McMahon. “These benefits will have positive impact across a range of markets, including consumer electronics, wearables, servers, unmanned aerial systems, satellite systems, and electric vehicles. To further advance its core technology, Lux was recently awarded a $1 million SBIR Phase II cooperative agreement from the National Science Foundation. This funding builds on the support that Lux has received from the Capital Region and upstate New York, including funding from NEXUS-NY, research collaborations with SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and semiconductor networking through NY-CREATES. Lux looks forward to continued cooperation with its New York partners as it gears up for pilot-scale manufacturing this summer.”
SMART Pad in Colonie received $750,000 for R&D of new polishing pads with micro features to improve the chemical mechanical planarization process for sub 7nm semiconductor technology. Whereas conventional pads have randomly distributed micropores that can cause unwanted polishing results on semiconductor wafers, SMART Pad uses a microfabrication process to control microfeatures on the pad’s surface. The result is improved polishing precision and consistency that leads to better chip-level planarization and wafer-level uniformity. SMART Pad received a $225,000 Phase I award in 2019. SMART Pad has worked with Precision Valve and Automation in Cohoes, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Clarkson University for the development and prototyping.
“SMART Pad is the frontier in developing a revolutionary polishing pad for sub-7 nm-node semiconductor technology,” said SMART Pad CEO and Co-Founder Sunghoon Lee. “The unique and novel design of SMART PAD, results in improved planarization, a decrease in defects, and a higher removal rate, which enables next-generation technology and is expected to reduce costs by $7 billion per year. Partnering with manufacturers and academic institutions in the Capital Region has greatly aided in the material and design optimization of these pads as well as prototyping automated manufacturing lines.”
While not an NSF awardee, another Capital Region semiconductor startup is the NoMIS Power Group. This is a spin-off start-up company out of SUNY Polytechnic Institute working to accelerate the clean tech revolution in the 21st Century and beyond. Founded by Albany-native Adam Morgan, SUNY Poly professors Woongje Sung and Shadi Shahedipour-Sandvik, and Ohio State University professor Anant Agarwal, NoMIS Power Group brings together unique skills, expertise, and networks across the power semiconductor, power packaging, and power electronics fields via U.S. technology innovation and leadership.
The company mission is to enable the widespread adoption of silicon carbide (SiC) power devices with semiconductor-based power electronic switches across the global power management industry. And, in the process, help develop an indigenous U.S.-based supply chain for critical technologies, such as EV fast chargers, solid-state transformers and DC protection equipment, HVDC converters, heavy-duty vehicle motor drives, and locomotive traction drives. NoMIS Power Group is presently participating as a semifinalist team in Round 4 of the American-Made Solar Prize.
Other NSF Awardees
Two other Capital Region startups received NSF Phase I funding. In partnership with Union College, Sunthru in Scotia received a $256,000 STTR grant to improve the automated process of making aerogel windows, which outperform traditional windows by increasing natural light with less reduced clearness and heating or cooling loss. With this funding, Sunthru will research ways to improve aerogel molding technology and build larger systems, create aerogel windows with tailored aesthetic effects from dye doping and etching, and develop prototype windows with simplified assembly methods. It will also study the use of alternative chemistries.
In Cohoes, Kaden Health, formerly known as Thrivee received a $224,394 SBIR grant to develop an AI-driven platform to drive success in opioid addiction programs. The behavioral health startup is developing its own artificial intelligence to provide clinicians determine whether someone is relapsing.
Capital Region startups that have received NSF SBIR and STTR grants in prior years include HocusLocus in Albany, Lunas Power in Clifton Park, SelfArray in Troy, Glauconix Biosciences in Albany, FlowActive (formerly Mobius Lab) in Troy, TheroAura in Colonie and EnerMat Technologies in Clifton Park.
As a regional technology center under the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, CEG’s Business Growth Solutions (BGS) unit offers a menu of support services for entrepreneurs. These include improving access to facilities, prototyping support with 3D printer services, and identifying potential investors, mentors, and resources. BGS also provides opportunities for startups to showcase business ideas through programs such as VentureB and the New York State High School Business Model Competition. CEG is supporting the formation and growth of local minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) and disadvantaged small businesses through KeyBank Business Boost & Build (KBBB). Chamber support services for entrepreneurs include, loan programs, entrepreneur boot camps and an MWBE program.
Don’t miss these insights into the trends that are shaping the Capital Region’s economy. Sign up for CEG’s e-news and follow us on: