Creating an environment where innovation can be fostered is a very specific leadership challenge.
Innovation demands that you approach a challenge differently. But it takes courage—perhaps even daring—to go against conventional, accepted thinking and take another path. Yet, that is what innovators must do, and accept that mistakes along the way are part of the learning process… without making mistakes, one cannot progress. Creating an environment where innovation can be fostered, therefore, is a very specific leadership challenge.
As CEO, my view is that especially for a young company, one needs to have well-constructed core values upon which to build the company, but then to embrace divergence so that different thinking can emerge. By taking this route, innovative new solutions will emerge—as long as we are brave enough to embrace them.
We are in a fortunate position. Gallium nitride (GaN) is a relatively new technology that has only emerged as a fully-fledged alternative to traditional silicon for widespread adoption in power semiconductors in the last five years. Perhaps, this is coincidental with the “electrification of everything” and “green” movements and a global desire to be more sustainable. Our company, Cambridge GaN Devices (CGD), is in the right place at the right time when the world—or more specifically power engineers—are ready to pay attention to new ideas.
I am not a typical power semiconductor CEO. I am young and have a different perspective. I bring a passion and a total commitment to the reality and necessity of building a sustainable future. Our journey from university program to where we are now, a company delivering product in production scale quantities—millions of devices—to brand-leading customers worldwide, has demanded that we dare to be different.
Let me give you an example: diversity. At CGD, we have personnel from a very wide demographic—age, sex, nationality, ethnicity, and culture. But every time I meet one of our new hires, they all say the same thing: “I want my voice to be heard.” And that is what I bring: I have built a team of people that have complementary skillsets to my own, and I give them the space to make mistakes, and so to learn and innovate. I have an open-door policy and a culture that encourages people to come in and talk, to challenge and disagree. In this way, we have built a cohesive team of young engineers and 20-year veterans—all equally motivated—who are all rolling up their sleeves and willing to fight with me because they believe in what we are doing.
But to innovate, not only must you have a diverse team, you must nurture that diversity. I like the word ‘nurture’ very much. What do I mean? Let me give another example—parental leave policies. When we had the first employee pregnancy, we agreed that we wanted to have a policy that was fair. We looked at the state benefit and realized that the UK is at the bottom of the scale in Europe. So, we had a conversation and put together a scheme to ensure the employee was treated fairly and properly. They feel nurtured.
Let’s look at our core pillar values, starting with knowledge. We are proud to be part of a community of customers, manufacturing and applications partners who share information and build a knowledge resource. One example was shown at the recent electronica exhibition, where we announced a deal with Neways, the international innovator in electronics for smart mobility, semiconductor and connectivity solutions, to develop high-efficiency, photovoltaic solar inverter products based on GaN. The partnership has already borne fruit in the form of a 3kW photovoltaic inverter jointly developed by the two companies.
Sustainability is our most visible core pillar: it runs through the entire company culture. It is a true commitment shared by every employee at CGD. In various ways, they all say, “I want to be part of the next big technology company. But I also want to make a positive impact on the environment and change things for the better.” My job as a leader is to build the team based on commitment and trust, and a willingness to be part of this journey. We really believe that we can make a change not only by delivering chips with the very high-efficiency levels that GaN delivers. Sustainability also runs through all our operations and how we act and do business.
Responsibility is an underlying value that determines our attitude to our workforce, our partners and our customers as well as our immediate and macro environments. It is fundamental and must never be taken for granted.
Innovation is the final core CGD pillar. One might be tempted to argue that all GaN devices are similar… but you’d be wrong. As a later entrant into the market, we realized that we had to offer something different—innovative engineers loved the increased power and efficiency and reduced size of GaN—but initial GaN transistors needed special care and attention to drive them. CGD looked at this conundrum and gave the world industry’s first easy-to-use and scalable 650V GaN HEMT family. Furthermore, our ICeGaN is expected to be verified as industry’s most rugged and reliable GaN platform.
Unlike other discrete or hybrid solutions, CGD’s ICeGaN HEMTs are fully-integrated, GaN-only devices with an internal GaN interface attached to the gate. This approach means that devices are stable, reliable and simple to drive, using a standard silicon MOSFET driver. Our design also eliminates the risk of damage at Turn-on, and devices are available in an extended voltage range up to 20V. We also believe that we are offering the industry’s most rugged GaN devices, and we will present papers this year which prove it.
Such innovations are possible because we have a thorough understanding of the technology. This is something that customers appreciate, because we can talk with them at the deepest level, down to how the electrons in the transistors are behaving. After all, that’s how CGD started, we offered consultancy services to companies, explaining their own technology.
Scaling up is probably the hardest leadership challenge. We have to have to courage to make ourselves heard and noticed in huge markets such as consumer and automotive, where opinions and operational practices can be entrenched. We have engaged with the industry bodies and the standards committees, the politicians and key influencers and learnt to talk their various different languages. And we have had to demonstrate our value to our supply chain partners. We know we must lead the change and we are not waiting for the rest of the industry to act. In this way, we can understand what motivates our customers and are able to deliver the products they need in the huge quantities they require.
Therefore, while all our core values are important, I believe that courage is – how shall I put it? – the ‘first among equals’ that reinforces our beliefs and empowers us to make things happen and to succeed against our worthy competitors, while staying true to our commitments.
About the Author
Giorgia Longobardi is the CEO of Cambridge GaN Devices.
About Cambridge GaN Devices
Cambridge GaN Devices (CGD) is a fabless semiconductor company spun out by Prof. Florin Udrea and Dr. Giorgia Longobardi from Cambridge University in 2016 to exploit a revolutionary technology in power devices. Our mission is to shape the future of power electronics by delivering the most efficient and easy-to-use transistor. CGD designs, develops and commercialises GaN transistors and ICs enabling a radical step change in energy efficiency and compactness and is suitable for high-volume production. CGD technology is protected by a strong IP portfolio that constantly grows based on the company's leading innovation skills and ambitions. In addition to the multi-million seed fund and Series A and now B private investments, CGD has so far successfully secured four projects funded by iUK, BEIS and EU (Penta). The technical and commercial expertise of the CGD team combined with an extensive track record in the power electronics market has been fundamental in early market traction of our proprietary technology.
* Cambridge GaN Devices(CGD) Authorized Distributor : Zenicom Corporation