Executive Interview: Anders Storm, CEO, Sivers Semiconductors
1. When was Sivers formed and what was the vision that launched the company?
In 1951, the engineer Carl von Sivers founded Sivers Lab and manufactured passive microwave products and slotted line VSWR detectors for professional and educational use. About six years ago, the board took a strategic decision to adjust the operations to better fit the new 5G mmWave demand and, at the same time, leverage on the long history in microwave and mmWave.
In 2017, another big decision was taken to acquire CST Global (now Sivers Photoincs) and add a second business area to the company, addressing also the fast growing photonics market, which is also an important technology in the 5G space. Our vision is to build a broad and strong semiconductor company that address high growth markets within mmWave and photonics verticals in many areas
2. You mentioned acquiring CST Global, based in Scotland. What was the strategic intent behind increasing your frequency range beyond mmWave to light?
When building a semiconductors company, it is not enough with only addressing one area. We want to have an offering with a much broader base, that can be used to build the next semiconductor success story. By adding photonics, we now have two great business areas to build on when we start our journey. I do not think this is the last “add on” to the Sivers portfolio; in the future we will add more. But we take one step at a time, first we get these two legs from walking to running.
3. You've recently changed the names of the company and your two business segments. What does that reflect?
Sivers IMA was a name that did not say anything about who we are. Sivers Semiconductors gives you an instant reference framework and makes it much easier to get our message out to both customers and shareholders. The new brand and profile will also better reflect who we are—a company leaning forward, helping our customers being successful with great innovation at heart.
4. How would you characterize the state of the mmWave and photonics markets? What currents are driving them?
The photonics market is driven by the need for higher integration between photonics and silicon to create silicon photonics products, which are needed to address many of the great needs for lower cost, higher data rates and new sensors. mmWave is driven by the exponential growth in data traffic, the need for lower latency wireless networks and a lower cost per bit that can pave the way for the “gigabit society.”
5. Within these currents, what market opportunities are your targeting?
With photonics, we are targeting sensors and FTTH/data center applications, as well as Li-Fi possibilities in an early phase. Within wireless, our focus today is on the 5G infrastructure market for both unlicensed (60 GHz 802.11ad/ay) and licensed mmWave spectrum for 5G NR products, ranging from 24 to 49 GHz.
6. Sivers Semiconductors is a fairly small company in a space that has attracted many, often larger, competitors. What differentiates your businesses in the eyes of customers?
Within wireless, we have been working with high frequencies for many years. We are one of the few companies that really knows what it takes to make mmWave solutions, which is 10x more difficult than sub-6 GHz.
Within photonics, we probably have the best team in the world around InP lasers, with more than 20 years of experience. This has been confirmed recently with two Fortune 100 customers turning to us for development of sensors. Hence, it comes down to know how and how to turn that know how into making state-of-the-art products.
We are maybe not the cheapest solution, but we think we always provide the best value and that becomes more and more important with the kind of products we are providing today. In the eyes of the customer, we get continuous feedback that our support is responsive and dedicated, with professional employees committed to our customers’ success.
7. Describe the internal manufacturing capabilities of your photonics business.
Our in-house manufacturing offer InP, GaAs and GaN lasers. Today, we offer both 3 and 4 in. wafers, where we typically provide VCSEL arrays or edge emitter lasers.
8. Contrasted with the photonics business, your wireless segment is based on the fabless design model. How do you handle the back end, i.e., packaging and test?
Yes, that is correct. We have several partners in the U.S., Europe and Asia that we use for packaging and test. Which partner we use depends on the chosen foundry manufacturing the bare die.
9. You recently announced the intent to establish a group in Silicon Valley. What will be the scope of the team there? Will it support both business segments?
This is an important milestone for the company, and it will support both business areas. The initial focus will be on business development, sales and marketing, and we will start off by hiring four people. Long term, it may be we grow the U.S. office to include also design work, but that will be a later decision.
10. Sivers Semiconductors is publicly traded on the Nasdaq First North Growth Market in Stockholm. Is the company well capitalized to support your growth plans?
Yes, we had approximately $27 million cash balance at the end of 2020, with a positive EBITDA in the last quarter of the year. Hence, we feel well capitalized for our growth plans, having an aggressive plan for 2021. We are also working on moving to Nasdaq main list by Q2 2021 and with the current market cap, we will probably be listed directly as a mid-cap company in Stockholm.
11. Last question: Tell us about your career path and what led you to Sivers Semiconductors.
I have been working for over 20 years within the data and telecom industry: working in most parts of the value chain, ranging from handset (Sony Ericsson) to mobile operators and software suppliers. The main reason that I ended up in Sivers was the former CEO that hired me in 2015. We worked in a company way back in 1998 called Sendit; he was the Sales VP, and I worked as a customer project manager. He asked me to join as COO at Sivers and be part of the turnaround of the company. Sivers was a bit too technical for him, and he recommended me to take over to the board, and I was appointed the CEO in August 2016. Market cap was then $20 million and now, four and a half years later, approximately $500 million. So far it has been a very interesting start to Sivers Semiconductors new journey into 5G and photonics.