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Startups

Korea's sole AI chip designer takes on automotive chip market

Former Samsung chip designer creates exclusive AI chip design company in Korea

By Jul 28, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Openedges Technology CEO Lee Sung-hyun.
Openedges Technology CEO Lee Sung-hyun.


South Korea-based semiconductor intellectual property provider Openedges Technology Inc. has come into the limelight with global automaker Hyundai Motor Co. investing around 3 billion won ($2.6 million) into the startup to kick off the development of automotive artificial intelligence chips.

AI chips are crucial to making autonomous driving cars and Openedges is currently the only AI chip IP company in Korea. 

Openedges, which planned to wrap up its Series C funding round after raising 20 billion won, has welcomed Hyundai Motor as a strategic investor. The startup concluded the funding round after raising 35 billion won.

Openedges has taken center stage for its ability to address a structural issue in the semiconductor industry. Semiconductor companies are largely divided into fabless and foundry businesses. Fabless chip companies are responsible for chip designs, which are used by foundries to manufacture the chips.

Generally, fabless companies do not create the entire blueprint. They usually purchase individual IPs from chip IP providers and combine them to produce the final design. But the IP functions often clash as they are brought in from different IP providers.

“Neural processing units (NPUs) and memory systems are core IPs for automotive AI chips and they need to work well together, but it's easy for an error to occur if they are from two different companies,” said Lee Sung-hyun, the chief executive of Openedges Technology.

Openedges addressed this issue by creating and optimizing the IPs for both NPUs and memory systems, reducing power consumption by half while increasing processing efficiency by over 30%.

The company earned a solid reputation for its technological prowess, selling its IPs to major semiconductor companies just seven months after its inception. So far, Openedges has sold over 15 IPs and expects to make an additional profit from royalties.

EYES KOSDAQ LISTING IN 2022

In December 2017, CEO Lee established Openedges with three of his research colleagues from the Seoul National University where he completed a doctorate in electrical engineering.

Lee previously worked at Samsung Electronics Co. where he oversaw chip design for about 10 years. During his time at Samsung, Lee was in charge of developing Samsung Exynos processors, which are used in Samsung's Galaxy smartphones.

"I decided to set up Openedges after seeing how the AI chip market has taken off over the past five years," said Lee.

The company's employees are also seasoned chip design experts, having worked at major semiconductor companies such as SK Hynix Inc.

Following Hyundai Motor's strategic investment, Openedges plans to speed up its development of automotive AI chips -- essential in autonomous driving vehicles.

Openedges is also eyeing a listing on the country's junior bourse Kosdaq in the second quarter of 2022. The company has already hired an IPO manager.

"We plan to use the proceeds to set up an overseas entity and to expand our business," said CEO Lee, adding that the company will focus on securing sales to global semiconductor companies.

Write to Jin-won Kim at jin1@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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