From trains to your smartphone, semiconductor chips are essential components for almost every sector of the global economy. But geopolitical tensions and supply chain issues have placed a strain on the industry, which is overwhelmingly based in Asia.
That’s led to global powers scrambling to develop their own semiconductor strategies — including help for startups. The US and China announced $52bn and $143bn packages in 2022, respectively, while the EU’s €43bn European Chips Act aims to increase the continent’s production capacity to 20% of the global market by 2030.
The UK also recently splashed a £1bn semiconductor package, and though the strategy of supporting companies working on semiconductor IP, design and developing new tech like compound chips is the right one, it didn’t go far enough, says Neil Ross, policy director at trade association techUK.
“Semiconductor startups need access to capital and talent, the ability to find a physical site to build, connection to the energy grid and competitively priced energy. The semiconductor strategy offered no tangible answers on any of those points.”
But which semiconductor startups are bringing in the most cash? And which countries are leading the way when it comes to creating the most companies? Sifted drew on Dealroom data to get the answers.
Which country has the most semiconductor startups?
In Europe, the UK has the most startups working on semiconductor technologies — 88 — with Germany and France close behind, with 65 and 64 respectively.
What stage are they at?
A semiconductor factory — or fab — can take up to three years to build and requires expensive equipment and clean environments, but European semiconductor startups are working on a wide array of different stages of the process, from chip design (like the UK’s Graphcore) to applications such as quantum computing (France’s Siquance) and sensors (UK Cambridge spinouts FlexEnable and Cambridge Touch Technologies). The majority are at the seed stage, followed by Series A.
The best-funded semiconductor startups in Europe
The seven European semiconductor startups that have raised the most money so far include AI-focused designs, blockchain specialists and mass-market manufacturers. Meet them below.
Graphcore is a UK AI-chip designer. In 2020, it raised a $222m Series E funding round to give it firepower against US rival Nvidia, whose tech powers ChatGPT and recently became the first chipmaker to reach a trillion-dollar valuation. Earlier this year, the FT reported that its chief executive Nigel Toon wrote to the UK government to say the country’s £900m supercomputer project should use Graphcore’s chips.
Total raised to date: $682m
IQM Quantum Computers
One of Europe’s best-funded semiconductor startups is also Europe’s best-funded quantum startup. IQM Quantum Computers, a Finnish quantum hardware startup, uses superconducting qubits — the most widely used technology in quantum computers — which involves a “novel chip architecture”.
Last year, the company raised a chunky €128m round, led by climate tech investor World Fund. While IQM’s cofounder and CEO Jan Goetz told Sifted at the time that he doesn’t believe quantum computing can solve the climate crisis on its own, he does believe it can help, through applications such as developing more efficient batteries.
Total raised to date: $243m
Founded in Ukraine, but headquartered in Amsterdam, Bitfury Group is a blockchain infrastructure provider and transaction processing company. The startup designs and produces hardware to try and keep blockchains and cryptocurrencies secure, including with custom chips.
In 2018, the startup raised an $80m Series C at a $1bn valuation, according to Dealroom, making it one of Europe’s blockchain unicorns.
Total raised to date: $200m
Cambridge-based Pragmatic manufactures “ultra-thin” microcircuits that can be used in mass-market objects and packaging. It says its chips can give everyday objects “unique digital identities”.
In 2021, the company raised a $80m Series C round led by Arm, the similarly Cambridge-based chip designer which is the the UK’s largest.
Over the next decade, Pragmatic wants to build more than 100 manufacturing plants, but cofounder Scott White says the locations will depend on government initiatives. With the EU’s schemes “opaque”, it will likely look to the US and beyond.
Total raised to date: $186m
Founded in 2011 as a spin-off from French atomic energy agency CEA, Aledia achieved world-first breakthroughs in silicon chips that enhance microLED displays.
Last year, the company raised €30m in debt funding, after an €80m Series D in 2020.
Total raised to date: $169m
Based in The Netherlands, SMART Photonics runs manufacturing plants that make photonic components based on customers’ designs. It says using light can make “energy-efficient, faster and more accurate microchips”.
Last year, the company raised €75m from the Dutch National Growth Fund, a €20bn fund set up by the Dutch government in 2020.
Total raised to date: $141m
French chip manufacturer — and the only recipient of equity capital from the EU’s deeptech startup investment scheme — SiPearl has a focus on AI, medical research and energy management.
This year, it raised a €65m Series A from France2030 and a €25m convertible loan note from EIT.
Total raised to date: $120m