Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

InCore: Building a semiconductors ecosystem out of India

Starting with embedded processors for everyday appliances, the venture aspires to develop made-in-India chips all the way to high-performance computing

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Jul 10, 2024 11:17:14 AM IST
Updated: Jul 10, 2024 11:26:01 AM IST

GS Madhusudan, founder of Incore SemiconductorsGS Madhusudan, founder of Incore Semiconductors

In May 2023, Peak XV (formerly Sequoia Capital’s India and Southeast Asia unit) led a $3 million seed round in InCore Semiconductors, incubated at the IIT-Madras. The company is developing semiconductor processors based on RISC-V open source architecture. And made-in-India chips and systems-on chip products based on InCore’s platform could one day have a big impact, reducing the country’s semiconductor import bill. “Ultimately, in systems, whether it be operating systems or processors, you need to build prototypes,” says GS Madhusudan, InCore’s co-founder and CEO. “It’s an applied field. You can create any kind of theory you want, but something like a Microsoft Windows is bringing together hundreds of theories and practices into a practical system.”

That’s the aim at InCore, with its open source processors. In short, IIT-Madras started its pioneering semiconductor research work—led by Professor V Kamakoti, currently the director of the institute—around 2007; Madhusudan came on board in 2012 and became part of the work on Shakti—the team’s flagship RISC-V platform; and InCore was registered in 2018.

The ambition at InCore is roughly like this: First step, make processors for the embedded applications market, which account for about two-thirds of the processors in everyday electrical and electronic gadgets. “We want to make sure India had complete strategic autonomy on processor IP in this range.” Next, target low-to-mid-end PC class and mobile phone type of processors. And finally, make processors for high-performance computers.

GS Madhusudan, founder of Incore SemiconductorsIn terms of the timeline, “we have achieved goal number one. We are 70 to 80 percent done. We have two processor families that are already shipping to customers”, Madhusudan says. A more capable 1.5 GHz version is also expected soon.

InCore represents the entrepreneurial pillar of an entire ecosystem that is gradually taking shape in India where “at least in the embedded sector, other than probably a graphics unit, every other IP that goes into a typical embedded processor is available now”, Madhusudan says. The GPUs, the design tools and, of course, the fabrication plants are still from outside the country. However, with projects such as the fab and OSAT (outsourced semiconductor assembly and testing) plants being built by the Tata group and others, those will also begin to be available within India.

Meanwhile, InCore has struck up partnerships with companies such as HCL and Tessolve to create reference designs for segments like electricity meters, internet protocol cameras, BLDC motor controllers, designing complete parts as references. This would allow InCore’s Indian customers to work with fabs and place orders for those chips directly from its partners. “This is getting traction. We’re talking to people in about six or seven segments in which there are huge volumes,” he says.

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It’s a misconception that India doesn’t have semiconductor tech, Madhusudan says. “We’ve been designing chips for others for donkey’s years. We can do it for ourselves.” What’s missing, he says, are the supply chain and the product marketing expertise. Changing that is the long-term effort that India finally seems to be getting a move on.