April 30, 2007
Device Native Verification of FPGAs - GateRocket
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Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor

by Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor
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According to Gartner, worldwide ASIC design starts have declined to fewer than 4000 in 2005. At the same time, FPGA design starts are currently running at over 90,000 a year and rising.

On April 23 GateRocket Inc. announced availability its Device Native verification product that gives FPGA designers the power to validate designs with one to two orders of magnitude faster simulation, and realize actual device behavior early in the design process. RocketDrive is a hardware and software solution that adds significant value to existing design verification environments without a change in design flow or verification methodology.

Prior to the announcement I had an opportunity to interview Dave Orecchio, company president and CEO

GateRocket is all about accelerating product design. We have an approach we describe as Device Native verification. We focus on helping people who are designing the large FPGS devices. Our view is that we help those engineers who are designing these large FPGAs for all the cool electronic products that people interact with on a daily basis. It is amazing as I dove into it to see all the applications that are starting to use FPGAs. I think that as time goes by more and more will. Certainly the people who are designing these chips are facing a crisis in their ability to verify their designs.

Would you provide us with a brief biography?
I’ve been in the semiconductor space, the EDA space for the lion’s share of my career. With the exception of 2 years when I did a stint for Parametric Technology. I was SVP of Product Management for the Windchill product line. I decided that I wanted to return to EDA. Basically I started working for LTX Corporation, a semiconductor testing company, and then moved into EDA during the very early years of Viewlogic Systems. I worked for the company pre and post IPO through the growth years with its many acquisitions and through being acquired by Synopsys. I worked for Synopsys. We then spun out a portion of the technology and renamed it Innoveda. We ultimately sold that product to Mentor Graphics. Most recently I led Marketing at DAFCA which is in the SoC validation and debug space. I have a lot of experience in the EDA space and really enjoyed working in this area. I think there is a lot of opportunity. I always look for ways in which I can find a solution that can be significantly impactful to the market. The thing that excited me about GateRocket is that there is a significant, large and growing marketplace for large FPGA design that matter in the industry. And there is a problem with verification of these designs.

You have worked at both small and large firms. Now you are back at a small startup. Do you have a preference for small firms? What is the difference between working for a Synopsys and a GateRocket?
Good question. When I joined LTX they were a startup. I helped them until they became a bigger company. Then I decided to join another startup called Viewlogic Systems. Each of these tenures was long. Actually at LTX I spent 9 years. I like starting in a company that is small and helping them scale and grow into a sizeable business. That would be the best characterization of myself. In the case of Viewlogic they were a startup. When I joined the company Alain Hanover who is now the Chairman of GateRocket was leading Viewlogic. They sold the company to Synopsys. I stuck with the part that was a wholly owned subsidiary. The plan was always to spin it out again. We spun Viewlogic back out and named it Innoveda. It was basically the FPGA and system tools. This was in effect another startup because we had to get financing to buy the product that Synopsys was not interested in. We founded that company and it grew to a point where it was desirable for Mentor to acquire it. If you count those three firms, they were all small companies that grew to become larger companies. DAFCA was again that type of experience. DFACA was financed by VC firms. When I joined them they had a PowerPoint deck, an idea, VC funding and an opportunity to make something that is great. I joined them and helped bring that product to market. In the case of PTC that was simply an interest in a market segment. I was interested in the product lifecycle management area that touched a different perspective of product development.

I would have to say that I am more of an entrepreneur who likes working for small companies and helping them grow to become larger successful companies.

Chris Schalick now CTO was the founder and your predecessor as CEO.
Chris Schalick, an MIT alum, worked for several years at PacketEngineering and Tenor Networks. He built chips for communication companies. With this experience he moved to Teradyne who had moved the majority of their chip design from ASIC to FPGA and very large one at that. As he was doing that he applied the same methodology as an ASCI designer would do in building products. As he was going through the debug phase on the chip on the board, he found that designs that worked in simulation with test benches would not work in the system. He realized that the tools that are needed to effectively tapeout for an FPGS on a board do not exist. He had a new vision of the way to solve this problem and that is what inspired him to found GateRocket.

A lot of startups do not do it this way. Most startups get an idea and go to the VCs to get financing for it. He did it the other way round. He bootstrapped the business on his own nickel. He spent 18 months building a product and establishing customers. And then he realized funding to scale the business. He did a fantastic job. He had help. You may be familiar with the IT Mentoring Group. MIT has a great program where they advise young entrepreneurs in the early stages of developing the business and developing the company. They were instrumental in helping to guide Chris during the early months through the first year of life for the company.

You mentioned Alain Hanover.
Alain Hanover, one of the founders of Viewlogic, is the Chairman of the Board. One of the things that excited him about GateRocket was the similarity of the value proposition to that of Chronologic’s VCS product. If you think back to the early days of Viewlogic we acquired Chronologic which was a Verilog simulator. Frankly the only value proposition it delivered was that it was 10x performance improvement for verification. We had a rare experience for that product. The sale people were literally sitting by the fax machine as orders were coming in. It was one of those products that sold itself. In the early days of Verilog simulators you still had issues but customers were willing to go through all kinds of machinations to utilize it in order to get the 10X in verification performance. This was one of the main values of GateRocket that excited Alain to get involved as well as the maturity of the technology at the time of financing.

We also have an advisory board. The most recognizable name is Mike D’Amour, the founder of QuickTurn. He was excited because he saw that when you talk about the classification of products that are a combination of hardware and software for the purpose of verification, this technology has all the value without the pain that traditional users faced using this kind of product.

Where did the company get its financing?
The company was founded in 204. We had the first prototype several months later and filed a patent with 53 claims. In September 2006 we received financing ($1.25M) in a round led by Common Angles. That’s when I officially joined the company although I had been working with them for several months. We are talking about an April launch of the product.

$1.25 million does not sound like a lot of money. Are you thinking about raising additional funds?
Chris created this opportunity when he developed the product on its own and brought it very close to being realizable to the market. There was some polish that needed to be done on the product. We are now ready for full commercial release of RocketDrive. Our goal now is to grow the business with our early financing and over the next few months we will be evaluating what we do. If and when we were to approach additional financing, it would be with a goal of aggressively ramping up the revenue. At this time we have not made any decision with respect to any additional financing.

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-- Jack Horgan, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.


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