Niobium raises $5.5m as it tapes out homomorphic encryption chip

Niobium raises $5.5m as it tapes out homomorphic encryption chip

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

US startup Niobium Microsystems has raised $5.5m in a seed round after taping out a chip for full homomorphic encryption (FHE).

The chip for full homomorphic encryption is being built in the 12nm low power powers at Global Foundries at its US fab and marks the first commercial FHE implementation, Kevin Yoder, CEO of Niobium tells eeNews Europe.

The company is now looking at raising future rounds for the design of the next generation chip, which has a custom instruction set architecture and a massively parallel array of multiple accumulate units. “Round A will probably be $30m to $40m but to get us to the point of tapeout would be Round B ahead of the mask set so we know what node to target,”  said Yoder.

“The main purpose of the seed fund is to add some software engineers and go to market folks to engage customers ahead of the chip coming back. One of the things we are excited about is we have five or six companies interested in paying for our early access programme so we will have good feedback by the time the chip comes back,” he said.

The funding was led by Fusion Fund, a venture capital firm known for backing technology companies that leverage data advantages. As part of this funding, Niobium welcomed new board member Shane Wall, Fusion Fund partner and president of CXO Network, former CTO of Hewlett Packard, and Global Head of HP Labs. Notable investors including Morgan Creek Capital, Rev1 Ventures, Ohio Innovation Fund and Hale Capital, also contributed.

“We spun out of Galois R&D company with four or five government contracts and one with DARPA took up down the path of FHE and that gave us the opportunity to move forward with the accelerator chip which we taped out two months ago,” said Yoder. “We anticipate we will get that pack at the end of the summer for customers at the end of the year.”

The chip will be used on a PCI Express card for data centre servers and can provide acceleration of 1000 to 10000 to process data that remains encrypted without the need for the encryption keys. The level of acceleration depends on the workload.  

“Our early access programme is for people working with FHE and we will provide a simulator and when the chip and card become available they can transfer the workloads over to the hardware,” he said.

“Ultimately that will lead us to a decision on where we go next on what we add or remove to optimise for power or performance. The target for the areas such as financial and healthcare for example to keep private large block trades, or share medical or insurance data safely.”

This will start with off-line batch operations on structured data where the type of data is known. “At the beginning its going to be on the structured side, but as we go forward we think we can handle unstructured data,” said Yodel.

“We won’t have a comment on the power [consumption] until we get the chip back. The government was less concerned about the power than the functionality.”

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