Surrey NanoSystems has raised third round funding of £4.5 million (~US$7.1m) - one of the largest amounts secured by any UK semiconductor-focused company in the last year - from a consortium led by New Wave Ventures.
The funds will be used to commercialize innovations in materials to support the continued scaling of integrated circuits. These include an advanced dielectric thin film for insulation applications, and a process for growing carbon-based interconnections or 'vias'. Progress in both of these back-end-of-line semiconductor fabrication areas is critical if manufacturers are to continue silicon's evolution to next-generation geometry sizes, operating speeds and power conservation.
"The new funding will be used to take our proven technology to the next stage - to demonstrate it at a scale compatible with the lithography and wafer sizes used in today's high volume semiconductor manufacture", said David Wong, CEO of Surrey NanoSystems. "We are cooperating with leading players in the semiconductor industry, and within the next two to three years we expect to be able to offer the technologies in forms suitable for commercial use."
The new funding is being provided by New Wave Ventures in conjunction with Parkwalk Advisors, and further investments from Surrey NanoSystems' existing backers Octopus Ventures, IP Group PLC and the University of Surrey. New Wave Ventures has a track record in funding young companies in technology related sectors, and works on the principle that finding the right people with the right goals and values is more likely to deliver a successful outcome than simply focusing on elaborate financial projections.
Commenting on its investment in Surrey NanoSystems, New Wave Ventures co-founder Tim Bullock said: "At New Wave Ventures we aim to invest in the most capable management teams, with the ideas and abilities to make a significant impact on markets with global scale. We have been impressed by all that the team at Surrey Nanosystems has achieved to date and with their plans for taking their innovations through to commercial success."
Reducing leakage current is a critical requirement for the continued scaling of semiconductor devices. Surrey NanoSystems has developed a new class of high performance dielectric material for inter-layer or inter-metal insulation. With an effective dielectric constant of less than 2.4, it offers an advanced alternative to current 'low k' semiconductor insulation materials. It also has the advantages of having high Young's modulus and hardness, being non porous, and offering excellent resistance to the liquid chemicals employed in semiconductor processing - making it a robust and reliable material for IC fabrication.
Another target application is a replacement material for the vertical connections that link the layers of an integrated circuit, as the copper currently used is becoming more resistive as the geometry sizes of ICs shrink to ever smaller dimensions. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) can be structured to act as more efficient conductors, but their adoption has been hindered by the fact that conventionally grown CNTs require temperatures of around 700 degrees C - too high for semiconductor processing. In contrast, Surrey NanoSystems' fabrication system and process allows high density CNT structures to be grown at silicon-friendly processing temperatures of 350 degrees C or less.
Both of these insulation and connection materials advances have been catalyzed by Surrey NanoSystems' know-how in thin film deposition - the original roots of the company. The new materials also have applications in areas other than semiconductor processing.
Surrey NanoSystems is based in Newhaven, UK, where its research facility is equipped with nanomaterial deposition and growth systems of its own unique design, and state-of-the-art analytical and measurement instrumentation.
The new capital injection comes at the same time as a major personnel addition. Surrey NanoSystems has just appointed Lars McBride as its Chairman. Following a career in corporate finance in London where he held a number of positions including Head of European Mergers & Acquisitions at Chase Manhattan, McBride has worked for 18 years with a broad spread of engineering businesses, including as president of a supplier of gas analysis equipment to the semiconductor fabrication market. Currently, he is on the boards of six other businesses, ranging from well-established companies to start-ups. He takes over the chairman's role from Gerry Thurgood, who has worked for Surrey NanoSystems since 2007, and who remains a non-executive director with the company.
"The global importance of continued progress in semiconductors cannot be underestimated, and I am delighted to be joining a company with the potential to play such an influential role in shaping the future direction of the technology", added Lars McBride, Chairman of Surrey NanoSystems.