CEO interview: InvenSense's Abdi on expanding MEMS horizons

November 02, 2015 // By Peter Clarke
InvenSense Inc. is a MEMS company that has epitomized a fabless approach to a sector that is still highly reliant on a thorough grasp of the manufacturing and packaging processes. We interviewed CEO Behrooz Abdi to find out about the strategic thinking that is going on at the company.

Abdi wants InvenSense (San Jose, Calif) to push forward on all fronts from hardware technology, through software to business models and in application sectors. There are a lot of opportunities for the companies that can move quickly and execute accurately, Abdi said. 

Although founded in 2003, InvenSense was sufficiently successful with its original inertial MEMS components to go public in 2011. This success came mainly on being designed into consumer and mobile products such as smartphones. However, the IPO also brought about a change of management with the appointment of Behrooz Abdi as CEO replacing the founder and previous CEO Steve Nasiri.

Abdi has now been in place as CEO for a few years but surprised some people with a recent presentation that asserted that the MEMS component business is becoming a difficult place to do business (see Not enough money in MEMS, own the data, says InvenSense CEO).

Plans to move up the supply chain and start providing data services might seem like a radical change and run the risk of alienating component customers. At the same time InvenSense is a licensor of the intellectual property around its wafer-to-wafer CMOS-MEMS manufacturing process, making for a multi-faceted business model. We asked Abdi to say a little more about this.

Abdi acknowledge the complexity and said that a company has to focus. The various business models express, to an extent, where the company has come from, where it is and where it is going. But they also fit together, he stressed.

Right now InvenSense is a vendor of components-plus-software, Abdi said. It aspires to be a sensor solutions company offering end-to-end solutions but this is likely to be a long journey. "The company started with a process, which it took the company the first few years to perfect. We've now turned that process capability into a platform that is scalable."

"The execution strategy was to be fabless which meant transferring the process to foundries," Abdi said, but added that while InvenSense allows and encourages companies to use its process through TSMC and Globalfoundries, it is not open to all comers. "If you want to use the process, you have to deal with us," he said.

So IP licensing is also part of R&D and business development. "We run [mulitproject wafer] shuttles and a bunch of universities and small companies have made use of this. We make sure it is beneficial to us rather than competitive. But we do want to promote innovation on the platform," said Abdi.

Next: Data services