VCs spent just $17.7 billion on 2,795 deals last year. That’s down 36 percent from $27.9 billion in 2008, and it represents the lowest dollar amount and number of investments since 1997.
The chart I pulled together above, based on that data, shows the quarterly VC investment trends for semiconductor companies in just the past three years. Not an encouraging trend line. Total VC investment last year in our industry was $771 million, compared with a peak of $3.4 billion in 2000. What a difference a decade makes.
This realignment of dollars has brought about new expectations from investors and from semiconductor vendors.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal last week, Bob Ackerman, a venture capitalist at Allegis Capital in Palo Alto, said:
We’re preoccupied by capital efficiency.
Those two words, “capital efficiency,” speak directly to the semiconductor industry’s challenge. This focus on capital efficiency is why semiconductor vendors should be increasingly preoccupied with boosting engineering productivity to get the most from their R&D budget. Lacking an internal fab for differentiation in the fabless era, companies are looking for new ways to gain competitive advantage, and they’re training their sights on their R&D organizations.
The industry’s best-in-class semiconductor IDMs in fact have jumped on this imperative, especially as many of them have shed the last of their owned fabs and now need to compete with fabless companies.
But it works the other way too: Long-time fabless players suddenly find big new competitors that have shed their fabs. They too are looking to boost product-development productivity to stay one step ahead of their new competition.
It’s clear the days of big-time investment are a thing of the past. Today, good companies are those with innovative product ideas; great companies are those that also drive highly productive R&D organizations to get those products completed on predictable schedules and to market ahead of the competition to realize higher returns.