When I walked in the front door of JVD Inc. in San Jose, Calif., I was welcomed into the “world’s smallest semiconductor company.”
That’s how it bills itself, at least. JVD specializes in custom analog ICs, and consists of just four full-time employees -- hence, the “smallest” moniker.
The company is willing to tackle projects with very low volumes, down to about 15,000. At the other end of the spectrum, it has produced parts that have shipped in the millions. I found the model to be quite interesting. JVD claims to have a stable of about 30 contract analog IC designers, and it outsources all the designs to those contractors. Customers seem to be happy with the quality, because there’s a lot of return business. The company’s low overhead (with only four employees) lets it keep its costs to a bare minimum.
The 31-year-old company was founded by the current president’s father, who grew tired of passing up what he thought were potentially lucrative projects because his employers at the time didn’t think the volume justified the work. It appears he was on to something.
The philosophy behind all JVD designs is that it doesn’t believe in using standard cells, since doing so forces the designer to work with a fixed set of specs. Those specs may be close to what’s needed, but not exactly. The company has relationships with many of the common fab houses, so producing the ICs isn’t a problem.
We discussed applications ranging from hearing-aid sensors to automotive controllers, and lots of stuff in between. It may (or may not) be the world’s smallest semiconductor company, but it has a pretty big feel to it.