Arm Courts Silicon Startups With Free Access To Popular Chip Designs

By Patrick Moorhead - May 21, 2020

It’s an exciting time in the tech industry, with a raft of new technologies—namely AI, IoT, and 5G—all advancing and converging with the promise of enabling a multitude of new use applications. One company, in particular, stands out in its efforts to position itself at the center of what it calls “the 5th wave of computing,” and that company is Arm. In recent years, Arm has moved to lower the barrier of entry for its technology. Last year the company announced its Flexible Access program, which, for an annual fee, allowed developers to try out some of Arm’s IP before making a full purchase—no licensing fees if projects are halted, paused, or changed (for more info, see my coverage of last year’s Arm TechCon here). The original announcement applied chiefly to IoT IP, which covers about 75% of the company’s licenses, but not automotive, smartphone, PC, or infrastructure. Today, Arm announced an expansion of Flexible Access, with a new offering called Flexible Access for Startups. Let’s take a closer look at what was announced.

Figure 1: Selling points for Arm's new Flexible Access for Startups offering. 

Helping startups get a leg up

The need is real. Silicon startups have blossomed in recent years, as a result of the explosive growth in IoT, edge AI, autonomous vehicles and other next generation technologies. According to Arm, these startups together have amassed over $1.3B in funding over the last half decade. For that matter, funding has accelerated even further in the last 3 years—a tenfold increase from 2016 to 2019. As we all know, the tech industry moves very quickly—if startups are unable to get silicon quickly to the proof of concept stage, and then to market, then they could miss their market window. It’s a risky business, and the potential for failure is huge.

Enter Flexible Access for Startups, designed to accelerate silicon startups’ development efforts by providing them with access to much of Arm’s broad IP portfolio, along with training, tools, and support for the development of prototype chips. The company says the program will decrease risk for silicon startups and speed up their time-to-market by as much as 6 months to a year. The offering specifically targets early-stage silicon startups, which Arm defines as those who have $5M in funding or less. To recap, customers will be able to design, experiment, and manufacture prototypes, all for free. Startups only have to pay for the Arm IP they utilize at tape-out.

Figure 2: Arm IP available to Flexible Access for Startups customers

The IP that these startups will be able to “try before they buy” includes offerings from the Arm Cortex A, R, and M processor families, offerings from the Mali family of GPUs, ISPs, and other components that Arm considers foundational to the development of SoCs.

Along with this expansion, Arm also announced it is partnering with a silicon startup incubator called Silicon Catalyst. The company cays all members of the organization will have free access to Arm IP, tools, and prototype silicon.

Wrapping up

Arm understands that getting its technology into the designs of the next generation of silicon startups is a crucial goal that will further ensure its place at the table in its 5th wave of computing. Plus, it should help Arm develop ongoing relationships and engagements with the fledgling companies that could become tomorrow’s powerhouses. The original iteration of Flexible Access found success, with over 40 customers, over a broad range of sectors, already registered since last July. I think Flexible Access for Startups will be just as, if not more, popular given the high stakes and tight timetables early-stage startups face. I think it has real potential to save these startups money and accelerate their roadmap. I look forward to seeing what comes of the initiative and will be following with interest.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.

+ posts

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.