Polaris Tunes In Voice Chipmaker

All Steve Arnold ever heard were good things about Impinj Inc. The rumor was that the Seattle-based company not only had a good management team but also innovative technology.

“Consistently the message was, This is an extraordinarily powerful capability, and [potential customers] are eager to continue talking to the company as it evolves from development stage to product stage,'” Arnold says.

The rumors turned out to be true and certainly made a believer out of Arnold, whose firm, Polaris Venture Partners, led the $14 million Series B funding of Impinj. Arnold took a board seat as part of the deal. The round also saw pro rata investments from first-round investors ARCH Venture Partners and Madrona Venture Group.

Impinj’s initial product offerings – chips that facilitate a more efficient transmission of voice signals in wireless technology – have clear applications among cell phone tower equipment manufacturers like Nokia Corp., Nortel Networks Inc., Ericsson Inc., Motorola Inc. and Lucent Technologies Inc. Although he would not specify which companies Impinj was in talks with, Arnold says the interest in Impinj’s technology was encouraging.

With their first products – a digital-to-analog converter chip and an analog-to-digital converter chip – hitting the market this year, Impinj will attempt to carve out a niche among sector veterans like Broadcom Corp., Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc. Arnold is confident that Impinj’s “self-adaptive silicon” technology will distinguish them within the industry.

Developed by Impinj co-founders Carver Mead and Chris Diorio at the California Institute of Technology, the patented technology is used to improve the functioning of silicon chips after manufacturing. According to William Colleran, Impinj chief executive, mass produced silicon chips are often of insufficient quality to support high-performance analog circuitry. Its ability to improve analog functioning without boosting manufacturing costs will set Impinj apart from the competition, Colleran says. He adds that despite the increasing dominance of digital technology, analog signal processing will remain important.

“That’s what gets transmitted through your antenna and out over the airwaves in the case of wireless communications, or over your cable line or phone line in the case of wire line communications,” Colleran says. In telecom applications the benefit of Impinj technology to users will be improved performance, range and battery life.

The capital brings the total company’s financing of Impinj to $29 million. The infusion will be used for product development and to establish a remote design center in Orange County, Calif., or Silicon Valley where there is significant engineering talent to recruit from, Colleran says, adding that the money should take the company to profitability.