“Europe’s Challenges Can Be Our Strengths:” DSP Valley on Innovation and Networking

stronger together: the power of networks

At the start of December 2020, Flemish newspaper De Standaard included a special look at innovation in the region.

As part of the campaign, DSP Valley spoke with Media Planet about the importance of networking to digital innovation. CEO Dieter Therssen explained DSP Valley’s philosophy and the benefits networking brings.

“Innovation is never the work of a single company, but often arises from a combination of existing data or products. That implies that you need several companies to realize innovative developments. A good network is one of the key factors for successful innovation.”

-Dieter Therssen

At DSP Valley, we work toward business development in a collaborative spirit, leveraging networks to benefit entire markets and ecosystems. As Dieter put it, “Our biggest challenge is the translation of the technology to the industry. DSP Valley tries to play a role in this. Several things are needed: you need technology, you need people with the talent to convert that technology, you need money, but you also need a network to bring companies together around good ideas.”

Eclipse Foundation Comes to Europe

We are thrilled at the news that open source software foundation Eclipse Foundation is moving to Brussels!

Eclipse Foundation logo

Innovation and Collaboration

Styling itself “The Platform for Open Innovation and Collaboration,” the Eclipse Foundation is a non-profit organization working to provide a community of and for open source software users and creators. It provides IP management and IT infrastructure while also developing the ecosystem and processes to govern the community.

The Eclipse Foundation provides our global community of individuals and organizations with a mature, scalable, and business-friendly environment for open source software collaboration and innovation. 

-the Eclipse Foundation website

What Eclipse is doing has a strong connection with our work at DSP Valley. Collaborative business development means doing more in common than in isolation. An essential component of this are common foundations to work upon. The platform developed by Eclipse is an excellent example of nurturing such common foundations and creating opportunities to harness collective potential.

A move to Europe

In their press release on May 12, Eclipse outlined their reasons for moving their headquarters to Europe, creating Eclipse Foundation AISBL based in Brussels. Their rationale — and the decision itself — is a great illustration of how Europe and its approach to digitalization is extremely attractive at the moment. This especially with regard to how the European Union is (attempting) balancing technological aspirations and capabilities with societal needs and democratic control.

Contributions from a broad cross-section of European companies and governmental organizations to open source projects will be key to ensuring that these emerging technologies are fit for Europe, designed with consideration for the privacy and security of individuals and organizations, and have environmental impact in mind.

– Eclipse Foundation press release announcing move to Europe

A boon for our ecosystem

This is great news for Europe, and great news for the DSP Valley ecosystem. The foundation is already deeply involved in technology areas such as cloud and edge applications, IoT, artificial intelligence, digital ledger technologies, open processor designs, and many others: a great boost for our members. As we wrote about in March, Europe is actively engaging with how to move forward with AI and data technology. Eclipse will be a strong voice added to the mix of perspectives striving for that perfect balance between technology’s capabilities and societal needs. (See our article here )

Ultimately, Eclipse itself is a testimony to the need for as-open-as-possible collaboration with regard to digital foundations. Given our strong belief in collaborative business development, we’re delighted to welcome their headquarters to our shores.

Check out the details at the Eclipse website, and be sure to read Executive Director Mike Milinkovich’s statement, too.

Embedding robustness and security in your product


You read about it in the news: systems have been hacked and confidential information has gotten into the wrong hands. With the growing complexity and ubiquity of our various information systems in today’s world, the challenge for software developers to guarantee that confidential information remains confidential, has become bigger and more important at the same time.

by AimValley

AimValley has extensive experience in developing software for “carrier-class” telecommunication equipment, where built-in robustness, very fast fault recovery and redundancy are key requirements. To get to this “carrier-class” quality level, we use a selection of tools, such as: code analysis, minimizing manual coding of tedious functions, to help build in robustness and security in your products.

Code analysis

The first step is to screen your code for vulnerabilities such as resource leaks, dereference of NULL pointers, uninitialized data, control flow issues as early as possibly in the development stage. AimValley uses Coverity to scan your C, C++, and Python codes. Coverity runs by a developer or automated via scripts. As a second step we use Valgrind to debug and dynamically profile the application.

Minimizing manual coding of tedious functions

Using a domain specific language with a compiler to generate the application code, a framework, unit test code or documentation, allows developers to focus on those tests that are too complex to automate. Reusing common mature building blocks delivers stability and quality to a product. Manual unit or integration tests will still be required, but this approach helps bring down the development time and reduce the amount of bugs.

Open Source Software

In developing embedded software, it is very common to include free and open-source software modules in your products. These software packages however, all release their own patches and security fixes that you will need to stay up-to-date with. To ease that task AimValley uses Black Duck.

Open-source projects often include more code than is used for a project. A Yocto distribution, for instance, includes support for different hardware boards and modules that are not always used for your product. For an accurate assessment you will need to run the scanner against the used components only. You could do that by manually deselecting components from the scanner’s GUI or via directives in the source tree or via command line options. But how can you be sure that you did not exclude modules that you obscurely use? Functions called from inside a used library can easily be overlooked. While excluding from the GUI is easy, the number of manual annotations can be an issue. For example one of our recent scans of a Yocto environment came up with 750 vulnerabilities, making annotation somewhat cumbersome.

An abstract 3D render of a microprocessor on a circuit board with many electrical components installed. The central microprocessor has an integrated security lock in glowing yellow color. Components are labelled with random serial numbers, with many connections glowing in yellow color too.


During the testing phase we use vulnerability scanners, such as Nessus, OpenVAS and Kali Linux to make sure that the product has no externally exposed vulnerabilities. As a result of the scans, ports that have been left open unintentionally will be detected and additional vulnerabilities in the code will become visible.


All tooling aside, the most effective security counter measures start at the beginning, during the system architecture phase. Similar to the effect of spent effort on bugs detected early, not designing security risks into the system makes a huge difference. There are tools, methods and standards available that can help in this regard. But in general it is preferable to sit down with the development team and define use-cases and record security requirements that can be verified and tested.

All tooling aside, the most effective security counter measures start at the beginning, during the system architecture phase.

We have illustrated how the use of tools can help embed robustness and security in your product design in various stages of the development. This approach will only work if the development team is aware of and focused on the importance of security during architecture, design, reviews, implementation and testing.
A dedicated security officer’s role within the company can help to get guidelines, templates and procedures organized.

In 2019 DSP Valley embarks on collective business development

collective business development

A happy and prosperous 2019! Another year in which processing power will grow by 50%, connectivity bandwidth is to increase by 25%, and in which we’ll take at least a trillion photos on our smartphone. A minute fraction of the total of 30 zettabytes of data likely to be created in 2019.

by DSP Valley

Through 2018, you have helped us analyze the status of our industry and network. Together with you, we sought ways to better arm our industry for the challenges ahead.

How to get the best out of hyperconnected systems? Making sure they work for us, our families, our society. Making sure we achieve a leading position in this industry, from technologies over platforms and system integration to service provisioning. And this, in a wide variety of application fields: healthcare, mobility, logistics, manufacturing…

Pursuant to the analysis, a couple of elements emerged.

One is focus. We cannot be successful in everything, so we need to pick what holds most promise; combinations of regional technology strength and a receptive market.

Another is substance. Hyperconnectivity calls for an organization that goes beyond entertaining discussions. Rather one that scopes, guides, and funnels embryonic connections into meaningful business opportunities.

The conclusion of our analysis is to choose the path of collective business development. A challenge the team and I will be happy to take up for you.

During 2018, we have prepared several elements to do so. In two significant application areas, we have partnered to create Innovative Business Networks (IBN). Smartcities.vlaanderen addresses collective business development to make the ‘Internet of Things’ work for our society. We will look into connected, circular, attractive, and resilient cities.

Flanders.health seeks opportunities at the crossover of digital, medical and life science technologies. It investigates disease prevention, personalized treatments, and health at home. Both initiatives enjoy strong industrial backing as well as governmental support.

Industrial IoT projects are another example of that collective business development. Together with partners we lined up European funding in three areas:  textile, food processing, and manufacturing industry. 7 million EUR in total.

Last but not least, the core technology of our network; semiconductors, will get more focus again.  A lot is yet to come, in terms of materials, sensors, actuators, communication, high and ultra-low power, … More than enough to make this a program in its own right.

We will increasingly help you bring your technologies and solutions to the market in 2019. You will get a choice of services, or memberships, so you can align your investment with where you want to go.

About this, and the details of the above programs, our members and affiliates will learn more at our New Year’s meeting in Eindhoven on January 24th.

We look forward to working together in another exciting year.

I hope to see you all there,

Dieter Therssen

Cluster organizations are a key finance lever for photonics and microelectronics

cluster organizations

Access to finance is not easy for companies in the photonics and semiconductor sector. That sounds familiar to you, no? But did you know that technology clusters play a key supporting role for those companies to realize their goal?

by DSP Valley

A recent report prepared for the DG Research and Innovation and the DG Connect, Financing the digital Transformation – Unlocking the value of photonics and microelectronics, states that the photonics and semiconductor sector offer a tremendous opportunity for Europe since they will shape the way we live and work in the years to come. The study was done by InnovFin Advisory, part of the European Investment Bank Advisory Services. “The photonics and semiconductor sector are essential Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) and represent important building blocks of the next digital revolution”, the study says. Besides that, the study confirms that the access-to-finance conditions for companies in these sectors are challenging. Especially at early- and growth-stage.

Presence of a cluster organization is key

To understand these access-to-finance difficulties, InnovFin Advisory explored through interviews and analysis a range of financing issues relevant to the photonics and semiconductor sector. They distinguish ten findings determining the ease with which the photonics and semiconductor sector get access to financing. Two intrinsic sector characteristics make financing more difficult: technological complexity and challenges of scaling the business. Eight findings concern financing levers of the access-to-finance landscape. According to the study the key financing lever for the photonics and semiconductor sector is the presence of a technology cluster. Cluster organizations contribute in a significant way to the development of photonics and semiconductor companies. Based on the interviews conducted, InnovFin Advisory notes 62% referencing the important supporting role of these technology clusters.

The technological complexity and less compelling investment characteristics of the photonics and semiconductor companies make financing more difficult.

cluster organizations

Networking and guidance

The presence of cluster organizations is important because a number of them operate across Europe with a specific focus on supporting photonics and/or semiconductor companies. Among the cluster organizations mentioned are our partners Silicon Saxony and Minalogic, but also DSP Valley. Together with those two clusters, DSP Valley is seen as one of the most successful clusters in Europe. Based on discussions with representatives of the technology clusters, and with companies connected with them, the study states the contribution of clusters is also important in terms of networking. Clusters connect entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs, corporate players, financing partners, potential talent, etc.

Clusters connect entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs.

Another reason why clusters play such an important role is the fact that they provide companies with specific guidance and advice in terms of financing, the study says. They do that for example by helping companies understand which public grants or other financing programmes they may be entitled to.

Access to infrastructure and to opportunities

According to the report the support of clusters can especially be of value to early-stage companies, but also to more established players seeking connections/access to niche solutions and talent. For financing intermediaries, InnovFin Advisory notes that clusters provide more centralized access to potential opportunities in a single industry.

Also more established players seeking niche solutions acknowledge the value of clusters.

Geographic location as evidence

Evidence of the positive impact of cluster organizations, the researchers found through the geographic location of photonics and semiconductor companies and examples of corporate investment. Photonic and semiconductor companies identified in this study are located in relative proximity to the key European clusters, which is a sign of their importance to broader technology development. Such a finding is also confirmed in an earlier study (the KETs II study). This geographic proximity of course offers clear advantages in terms of knowledge exchange, networking, etc.

The most important semiconductor clusters are concentrated in Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. The key photonics clusters are located in Germany, the UK and France.

A lot of photonic and semiconductor companies are located in relative proximity to the key European clusters.

In its conclusion, InnovFin Advisory states that since the photonics and semiconductor sector are essential building blocks in the next wave of digital innovation, the access-to-finance conditions for these KETs companies have to be improved. Therefore the need for better coordination among national funding agencies and clusters is paramount.

Read the whole report


Financing the digital Transformation – Unlocking the value of photonics and microelectronics –

Prepared for DG Research and Innovation and DG Connect, European Commission

By Innovation Finance Advisory, European Investment Bank Advisory Services


Björn-Sören Gigler, Alberto Casorati and Arnold Verbeek


Shiva Dustdar



Silex Insight unveils new version of Chacha20-Poly1305 authenticated encryption

chacha20-poly1305 HP

Silex Insight, leading provider of IP cores for secure computing, presents a new version of its Chacha20-Poly1305 hardware crypto engine that is geared towards high-throughput applications.

by Silex Insight

The RFC7539-compliant IP core offers customers future-proof authenticated encryption between highly networked applications, for example in IoT or cloud computing. The new IP core – codename BA420 – is available for ASIC and FPGA designs. With simple, straightforward interfaces, it is easy to integrate and highly scalable, hallmarks of all Silex Insight’s cores.

Verification of integrity and authenticity

The BA420 is used to verify the data integrity and the authenticity of messages or packets. It provides authenticated encryption with associated data (AEAD) using the Chacha20 stream cipher combined with the Poly1305 message authentication code (MAC). Its maximum throughput exceeds several hundreds of Gbps and it can be fully configured to match the specific throughput requirements of the application and hardware platform. For SoC solutions, the core can be combined with optional scatter/gather DMA for easy and efficient integration. Alternatively, BA420 can also be deployed for encryption or authentication separately.

More secure alternative

The BA420 block may be combined with the BA415, which implements a high-throughput AES-GCM crypto engine. This combination offers future-proof security, as Chacha20-Poly1305 is a mandatory AEAD (authenticated encryption with associated data) algorithm, as is the AES-GCM, in TLS 1.3. It’s also a more secure alternative to older algorithms in TLS/SSL, the underlying protocol that secures most Internet communication in e.g. browsers (https), voice-over-IP, mobile devices and IoT applications. Therefore, Chacha20-Poly1305 has been adopted and deployed by major companies such as Google (Chrome browser, Android mobile devices) and Apple (Apple HomeKit for IoT devices).

Both BA415 and the new BA420 can be included in Silex Insight’s comprehensive root-of-trust hardware solution BA470.

“With this dedicated high-throughput version of Chacha20-Poly1305, we complement our solutions for highly networked servers, the heart of today’s IoT or cloud computing” says Sébastien Rabou, Director of the embedded security group at Silex Insight. “This new IP core does not only allow our customers to create dedicated ASIC solutions but also to create high performance FPGA accelerators on existing cloud platform like AWS or others.”

Smart Systems Summit 2018 – Compass on a smart planet

Smart System Summit 2018

Thursday, October 11, 8h45, a smooth drive to Eindhoven is the prelude to a rich and informative day at the Smart Systems Summit. To offer broad opportunities to matchmake, DSP Valley and Bits & Chips organize the event together. A report of a fruitful day.

by DSP Valley

The Van der Valk hotel, with its stately lounge with woodfire next to the entrance, is a marked change of the scenery for many DSP Valley attendants. Purpose of their day is an update on the latest evolutions in the smart systems market.

Arm sets the ball rolling

“To the day exact, 50 years ago, the first manned Apollo flight was launched. On board were 3 man and 1 flight computer with sensors and actuators. Quite literally an ‘edge’ computer with a mere 12 300 transistors, it needed sustained connectivity to earth to really be able to navigate the skies; the IBM computing system in Houston crunched sensor data, augmented with context, and uploaded indispensable additional guidance. A tiered, intelligent system – long before IoT. When 12 300 transistors can take you to the moon and back, think about today’s possibilities…”

After this short welcome by Dieter Therssen, CEO of DSP Valley, it is the Chairman of this Summit, Aad Vredenbregt, owner of ValOli and VP Bizdev at coMakeIT, who introduces the keynote speakers.

Jürgen Jagst outlines the opportunities for the smart industry of tomorrow

First on is Jürgen Jagst, senior manager automotive at arm. During his talk, Jürgen Jagst outlines the opportunities he sees for the smart industry in the society of tomorrow. Several macro-observations are discussed and documented, such as the escalating costs of designing solutions for volume markets, and the stalled cost-benefit of finer technology nodes since 28nm – cost per gate became essentially flat. There is a strong likelihood that after 10 years of customization wave (SoC and SiP for mobile market), we have embarked on 10 years of a ‘standardization’ trend with highly flexible devices for IoT applications. The silicon pendulum always seems to swing back.

We might have embarked on 10 years of a ‘standardization’ trend with highly flexible devices for IoT applications.

“We are living in interesting times”, Jürgen Jagst concludes ”, with innovation speed accelerating, China investing heavily in silicon technology, software more than ever becoming a key enabler, and – after the silicon industry consolidation wave – a consolidation ahead amongst platform and services players.” As if he was able to predict the very recent acquisition of the largest, independent Open Source company by IBM.

Microfsoft takes an open stance

After the 10 ‘o clock break Katrien De Graeve, IoT tech solutions architect at the Global Black Belt team of Microsoft brings the second keynote. She openly shares lessons learned from many actual implementations of IoT solutions. What are the challenges with digital transformation, what are the values realized when done properly? With Microsoft’s “Ignite” annual innovation showcase just 2 weeks earlier, a lot of new things and updates are introduced. Not in the least the investment commitment and strong emphasis Microsoft is putting on IoT solution enablers; cloud, security, AI, edge computing. Digital Twins are introduced as a concept to allow modeling the physical environment before connecting devices to that model. This facilitates factoring in ‘context’, ‘people’ and ‘spaces’ into the solution.

With Microsoft’s “Ignite” annual innovation showcase just 2 weeks earlier, a lot of new things and updates are introduced.

Katrien De Graeve also presents Azure IoT Central, a fully managed SaaS offering, which abstracts cloud intricacies from novel or novice users and helps them build compelling IoT scenarios. IoT Edge and Azure Sphere are introduced as platforms on the edge of the system, embracing – or at least supporting – Linux, and Docker containers. As perhaps best illustrated by its acquisition of GitHub, Microsoft seems to gradually take a more open stance and, on this summit too, Katrien De Graeve invites companies present to enter in discussion and join the ecosystem.

Katrien De Graeve of Microsoft invites companies present to enter in discussion and join the ecosystem.

Indeed, Microsoft as well as arm are looking for new ideas and companies to work with, and after the keynotes and during lunch both Katrien De Graeve and Jürgen Jagst take their time to visit the exhibition and interact with the attendants.

“Rock-solid” presentations

After the keynotes are delivered, the participants split up and choose a presentation of their interest. The selection to choose from is quite diverse. There is Georgi Gayadadjiev from Maxeler. He kicks off in the Technologies for the IoT-track and demonstrates the advantages and the importance of cumulonimbus cloud systems and how that interface only captures the information you really need. After lunch, Robbert Lohmann from 2getthere explains how his company will integrate autonomous systems operating on public roads without safety driver or steward and uses his project at Brussels Airport as an example. In Smart Health, Nico Zeeders and Olesya Bliznyuk from Unitron tell the listeners what to pay attention to when bringing medical solutions to the European market. DSP Valley-members are also well represented in the pack of speakers. Peter Schepers from Itility takes IoT into the sky, Ramses Valvekens (easics) and Daan Gheysens (Robovision) tell us more on deep learning on FPGA in the case automated optical inspection (AOI) . And much more. The overall impression: a strong program with a high level of speeches. Or as one of the participants expresses it: “The quality of the speakers and their presentations is rock-solid”.

Overall impression of the different tracks: A strong program with a high level of speeches.

Members and start-ups take the floor

In between the different presentations, there is time for visiting the different booths and for networking. Next to members as Thaumatec, Itility and Achilles Design, there is also room for start-ups. Crodeon presents its hardware for IoT in the farming industry, Ivex shows how it programs the behavior of autonomous vehicles, Pozyx demonstrates its capabilities to track people and objects all over the world. And Epihunter exihibits the tool with which it monitors invisible epileptic seizures. Because the company has been in the news lately with this new technology, Ephihunter also gets the chance to give a presentation on the technology in the Smart Health-track.

In between the presentations, there is time for visiting the different booths and for networking.

Young blood showcases smart cars

To top off the conference, a display of the innovative power of young teams is presented in the form of 2 advanced vehicles from KU Leuven and the Eindhoven university of technology.

The solar vehicles presented by KU Leuven and the Eindhoven university both won first prizes.

The “Stella” from TU/E is the prototype solar car that led to the ’Lightyear‘ vehicle presented by Arjo van der Ham in the mobility track. The team has been multiple winner of the Solare Challenge, and the car demonstrated raced 3 000 kilometers across the Australian outback to win the World Solar Challenge in October of 2017.

The “Pulse” from KU Leuven is this year’s contender in the Formula Electric for students. It is equipped with novel, artificial intelligence-based cooling technology and comprehensive telemetry, and won the 2018 First Prize for the design at the Formula Student Competition in the Czech Republic.

A great way to end the day, over a bite and a drink, having some concluding discussions, before heading home and let it all sink in.

Easics’ deep learning live demo at the WoTS 2018 fair

deep learning wots2018

From 2 till 5 October, easics participated in the World of Science and Technology exhibition in Utrecht, organized by FHI. At the World of Electronics section of the fair easics was proud to showcase its embedded deep learning demo for the first time to a broad audience.

by easics

The easics deep learning demo consists of an easics Daedalus board, a camera, and a display. Daedalus recognizes, localizes and tracks several classes of persons, animals and objects in real-time on live streaming video. Object classes include backpacks, laptops, bottles, cups, silverware, apples, scissors and umbrellas. The crowd was enthusiastic about the live demo.

Deep learning in a Box

Deep Learning in a Box is easics’ embedded AI (artificial intelligence) framework. It is deployed on-premise for real-time, low-latency inference, close to the sensors (as opposed to in the cloud). It operates in a small footprint, occupying only a small physical volume and consuming little power, compared to cloud-based solutions.

Compared to cloud-based solutions, Deep learning in a Box operates in a small footprint

Deep Learning in a Box relies on deep convolutional neural networks and easics’ automated code generation. It runs on several FPGA targets, complemented with state-of-the-art memories and connectivity. It can be deployed as a stand-alone box, as an FPGA SoM (system-on-module), or as an IP core in an FPGA. ASIC targets are being explored. Prototyping happens on an easics Daedalus board.

Applications of embedded AI

Easics focuses on embedded applications that benefit from object recognition, localization and tracking in images or live video. They include industrial machines, factory automation, robotics, autonomous vehicles, smart cameras, and crowd or traffic monitoring. Easics’ custom solutions rely on both AI and classical (non-AI based) techniques.

For an ever increasing number of applications, labeling data and training an appropriate deep convolutional neural network is significantly faster and cheaper than having an engineering team program the application using classical (non AI-based) machine vision techniques.

deep learning wots2018
easics showcased its embedded deep learning demo for the first time at World of Technology & Science.

Embedding AI in your application

Applying Deep Learning in a Box to your application is fast, friendly and flexible. Contact easics to discuss your application and to see the easics deep learning demo.

Easics will verify the feasibility of applying Deep Learning in a Box to your application using the Deep Learning in a Box software tools.

The future of embedded AI

Want to learn more about the future of embedded AI, and easics’ take on it in particular? Then do attend the Leuven MindGate Visionary Seminar “Pushing the Limits of Artificial Intelligence” on Wednesday, November 28 in Leuven.

For more information contact  easics


DSP Valley in article of Dutch magazine Trends

DSP Valley has been published in an article of Dutch magazine Trends. The article can be found at this link, but we’ll also publish it here, in Dutch as it’s only available in this language:

 DSP Valley zoekt zijn positie in slimme systemen

Terwijl de elektronicasector een boerenjaar beleeft, zoekt de Vlaamse clusterorganisatie DSP Valley een nieuw elan. Nauwe samenwerking met andere industrieën is de weg vooruit.

Het was misschien niet af te lezen uit hun koersbewegingen vorige week, maar de halfgeleiderfabrikanten beleven gouden tijden. In augustus was hun gemiddelde wereldwijde groei over drie maanden 14,9 procent, vergeleken met dezelfde periode van een jaar geleden. De chipverkoop steeg boven 40 miljard dollar in het kwartaal, een record.

De Belgen profiteren mee. Ons land heeft – het onderzoekscentrum imec buiten beschouwing gelaten – eigenlijk maar één halfgeleiderproducent op eigen bodem: On Semiconductor in Oudenaarde met zijn 130 miljoen euro omzet. Daarnaast zijn er de chipsbakker X-Fab met zijn hoofdkwartier in Tessenderlo en heel wat fabriekloze (‘ fabless‘) halfgeleiderbedrijven. Melexis steekt er bovenuit met zijn 541 miljoen euro omzet, maar er zijn ook AMS Sensors Belgium (ex-Cmosis), Septentrio, Ansem, Caeleste, ICSense, Easics, BlueICe en een handvol andere. Op een uitzondering na – onder meer de infraroodcamerafabrikant Xenics viel wat terug – boekten ze mooie omzet- en resultaatverbeteringen in 2017. Sommige internationale spelers besturen ook productlijnen vanuit België, zoals NXP met zijn chips voor Healthcare. En dan zijn er nog beloftevolle starters, zoals Tusk IC, EctoSense of het iets oudere MinDCet, die knappe groeiperspectieven hebben.

Smeerolie voor de motor

Eigenaardig genoeg profiteert de sectororganisatie van de branche, DSP Valley, niet mee van die gunstige trend. De twintig jaar oude, tienkoppige vzw uit het netwerk van het Leuvense universitaire onderzoekscentrum voor nano-elektronica imec, zag vorig jaar zijn brutomarge teruglopen en dook in het rood. De clusterorganisatie haalt driekwart van haar inkomsten uit hoofdzakelijk Vlaamse, interregionale en Europese subsidies. De rest zijn lidgelden.

Dieter Therssen, de industrieveteraan die een jaar geleden Peter Simkens opvolgde als CEO van DSP Valley, heeft een verklaring: “Wij krijgen er niet veel leden bij en de subsidiegraad van onze projecten is in de jongste paar jaar stelselmatig omlaag gegaan. We moeten nieuwe diensten ontwikkelen om ervoor te zorgen dat de rekening opnieuw klopt.”

DSP Valley heeft intussen ook leden uit Nederland en was vorige week in Eindhoven de co-organisator van de Smart Systems Summit, een elektronica-jamboree met steun van onder meer het Europees Fonds voor Regionale Ontwikkeling en het Europees Innovatieprogramma Zuid-Nederland.

De ironie is dat die ‘smart systems’ precies een groot deel van de uitdaging voor DSP Valley uitmaken. Therssen: “DSP Valley startte als een netwerk van micro-elektronicabedrijven. In de vroege dagen ging het vooral om het ontwerpen van de chips, de materialen die je nodig had en de productiemethodes. Vandaag is de uitdaging hoe je die chips gebruikt in het ‘internet of things’-systeem, waar zowat alle toepassingen naartoe evolueren. Onze bedrijven zijn typisch klein of middelgroot. Zij hebben het ontzettend moeilijk om dat voor mekaar te krijgen. Wij willen hulp bieden bij het overzien van de waardeketens en bij het bouwen van de businessmodellen. Die richting slaan we in. Wij willen schouder aan schouder aan businessdevelopment doen met de bedrijven in ons netwerk.”

Therssen noemt het Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) met zijn clusterorganisatie flanders.bio de grote aanjager van het Vlaamse succes in de lifesciences. Imec met DSP Valley is dat in de digitale industrie, vindt hij. “De industrie is de motor van het gebeuren. Imec en VIB leveren de brandstof, de intellectuele eigendom. Flanders.bio en DSP Valley zijn de smeerolie. Je hebt er niet veel van nodig, maar als je ze niet hebt, loopt de motor vast.”

Dichtbevolkt terrein

Een concreet voorbeeld is de 3,5 miljoen euro die de Vlaamse minister van Economie, Philippe Muyters (N-VA), uittrekt voor 21 ‘City of Things’-projecten. Het gaat over zeer verschillende toepassingen: bijvoorbeeld mobiliteitsmanagement met automatische nummerplaatherkenning in Puurs, wegdekmanagement in Lubbeek of slimme sturing van boilers in Genk. Therssen: “Uiteraard zijn dat kansen voor onze Vlaamse bedrijven. Wij werken daar met de businessdevelopers van onze leden, brengen bedrijven bijeen in consortia en zorgen voor competitieve voorstellen.”

Bij de tweede oproep voor Innovatieve Bedrijfsnetwerken (IBN), een onderdeel van het clusterstimuleringsbeleid van de Vlaamse regering, scoorde DSP Valley in juni twee contracten. In flanders.health – met 370.000 euro overheidssubsidie – werkt DSP Valley samen met flanders.bio en MedTech Flanders voor synergie tussen digitale en lifesciences. MedTech is de clusterorganisatie van de medische hulpmiddelenfabrikanten, met onder meer Barco, moveUP en Cochlear als leden.

In IoT4Society, met ruim 218.000 euro subsidie voor smart city-clusters, gaat DSP Valley samen met CityLab rond Marc Schepers (de ondernemer achter CityDepot, verkocht aan bpost). De subsidies dekken de helft van het budget van deze Innovatieve Bedrijfsnetwerken. De rest moet van de deelnemende bedrijven komen.

Therssen: “In chipontwikkeling bouw je vrij snel een bruggenhoofd. In gezondheidszorg moet de regelgever je product volledig vrijgeven voor je met patiënten kan werken. Tot dan verbrand je cash. Vandaar dat het een van de grootste zorgen is van flanders.health om dat vrijgavetraject zo kort mogelijk te houden. Wie dat kort kan, zal succesvol zijn.”

Het terrein van de clusterorganisaties wordt ondertussen dichtbevolkt, geeft Therssen toe. “Smartness zit in alles. Het Vlaams Instituut voor de Logistiek, bijvoorbeeld, draait tegenwoordig rond slimme systemen, trackers, big data, enzovoort. In andere sectoren net zo. Je zou ze als concurrenten kunnen zien, maar dat wil ik niet. Deze markt is veel te groot om moeilijk over te doen. Wij focussen op vier domeinen: smart health, smart cities, industrie 4.0 en smart mobility. En daarin dan op technologiebedrijven.”

Om zijn vernieuwde dienstverlening goed te krijgen heeft DSP Valley ondertussen twee algemene ledenvergaderingen gehouden en een ronde tafel georganiseerd onder het hogere management van elektronica- en ‘internet of things’-bedrijven. “Dit jaar is nog een investeringsjaar. Volgend jaar is dat volledig up and running“, belooft Therssen.

Ectosense stopt slaapkliniek in een vingerdop

De Leuvense starter Ectosense haalde in september 1,5 miljoen euro op om zijn NightOwl-toepassing grootschalig te vermarkten. NightOwl maakt met medische precisie uit of iemand aan slaapapneu lijdt. De hardware kan op een vingertop of het voorhoofd worden geplakt en vermijdt een verblijf in een slaapkliniek.
“Iemand met slaapapneu stopt 10 tot zelfs 100 keer per uur met ademen. Het treft ongeveer 5 procent van de volwassenen, maar slechts 1 procent weet dat ze eraan lijden. Je gaat er niet aan dood, maar de adrenalinestoot waarmee de hersenen de ademhaling weer op gang brengen, verergert aandoeningen zoals voorkamertribulatie, diabetes of hypertensie. Zorginstituut Nederland schat de meerkosten van slaapapneu op 4000 euro per jaar per patiënt die niet wordt behandeld”, legt chief operating officer en co-oprichter Bart Van Pee uit.
“De gouden standaard in het opsporen van slaapproblemen is het polysomnografietoestel dat zowat alles meet wat gemeten kan worden. Onze co-oprichters Frederik Massie en Arno Buttiens zetten in het Esat-labo van de KU Leuven de eerste klinische studies op. Ze wilden achterhalen welke registraties echt nodig waren om, via intelligente analyse, tot een diagnose te komen die even accuraat was als de gouden standaard zelf”, zegt Van Pee.
Oorspronkelijk wou Ectosense enkel de software-algoritmes op de markt brengen. Omdat je een heel goede controle nodig hebt over de sensors om zo veel mogelijk uit de signalen te halen, besloten ze vorig jaar ook zelf de elektronica te ontwikkelen. De incubator Imec.iStart hielp hen met haalbaarheidsstudies en Peter Simkens van DSP Valley verwees hen door naar de Leuvense elektronica-ontwerper Zenso.
De NightOwl-hardware communiceert met een smartphoneapp, die de gegevens voor analyse naar de cloudtoepassing stuurt, die op haar beurt aan de behandelende arts rapporteert. De patiënten lenen de NightOwl van hun dokter. “De zorgverstrekker betaalt iets minder dan 100 euro voor een week testen”, zegt Van Pee.
Ectosense voldoet aan de kwaliteitsnorm voor Europese certificatie en hoopt deze maand zijn dossier bij de Amerikaanse FDA in te dienen. De Ier Ciaran McCourt is sinds juni CEO.
De 1,5 miljoen euro die Ectosense in februari ophaalde, kwam hoofdzakelijk van Saffelberg, het vehikel van Jos Sluys. Saffelberg-woordvoerder Luc Osselaer: “Dit is een disruptieve dienst. Eén nacht in een slaapkliniek kost 1500 euro. Ectosense kan hetzelfde doen voor enkele tientallen tot 100 euro.”

Tusk IC mikt op miljardenmarkt

De starter Tusk IC zit volop in 5G en voertuigenradars. De vier oprichters zijn PhD’s van het Esat-Micas-labo van de KU Leuven, gespecialiseerd in het ontwerp van chips voor zeer hoge frequenties.
“Zo’n tien jaar geleden zijn we aan de KU Leuven gestart met dit soort onderzoek. Bedrijven waren toen nog enorm sceptisch of het überhaupt wel mogelijk of zelfs nuttig zou zijn. Dat is de jongste jaren volledig veranderd. We kregen steeds meer vragen voor kortere projecten die eigenlijk onze onderzoeksresultaten vermarktten. Multinationals zoals Qualcomm, Intel, Ericsson of Nokia hengelden naar onze doctorandi. Daarom beslisten we de onderzoeksresultaten onder te brengen in deze start-up”, meldt professor Patrick Reynaert, die het labo leidt en mee aan de wieg stond van Tusk IC.
Co-founder en CEO Wouter Steyaert: “Hoe hoger de frequenties, hoe kleiner de golflengte van de signalen en hoe kleiner je de componenten kan maken – ook de antennes. Dat is een voordeel. Je kan die antennes op de chip integreren. Dat geeft zeer compacte systemen die overal kunnen worden ingebouwd. Maar omdat de golflengte in dezelfde grootteorde begint te liggen als de afmetingen van de componenten, krijg je nieuwe fysische effecten. Het vergt een andere aanpak van het chipontwerp.”
De vraag naar zulke chips is enorm. Marktonderzoeker Strategy Analytics schat dat er in de vijf jaar tot 2022 liefst 375 miljoen radars op zeer hoge frequenties, zullen worden ingebouwd in lichte voertuigen, zoals nu al voor adaptive cruise control. Onder meer NXP, Infineon, Renesas en Texas Instruments vechten om die markt. De vraag naar 5G-chips zal uiteindelijk in de miljarden stuks lopen.
Het team van Tusk IC, met voorlopig 518.000 euro kapitaal van hoofdzakelijk KU Leuven en het Gemma Frisiusfonds, focust op het zend- en ontvanggedeelte van de chips. “Wij dragen dat laatste deel van de puzzel bij. Wij helpen voornamelijk bedrijven waar die kennis ontbreekt”, zegt Steyaert. Tegen begin 2019 verwacht hij zijn team uit te breiden tot zes mensen.
Op termijn verwacht Steyaert dat Tusk IC een steeds groter deel van de chipontwikkeling voor zijn rekening kan nemen, tot het bedrijf het volledige sensor- of communicatiechipontwerp kan leveren. Een overname is dan een van de mogelijke scenario’s. Maar Steyaert sluit ook niet uit dat Tusk IC zelf een product ontwikkelt. “In plaats van chips te ontwerpen, begin je chips te verkopen. Daar heb je een ander niveau van kapitaal voor nodig, maar het is ook een mogelijkheid.”


Mindcet zet in op vermogen

Zonnepanelen, windmolens, elektrische mobiliteit en laadpalen zijn maar enkele sectoren waar de vermogenselektronica de vooruitgang trekt. Dat is het terrein van MinDCet, een designhuis voor vermogenshalfgeleiders dat zich in 2011 afsplitste van het Esat-Micas-labo van de KU Leuven. De basis was het PhD-onderzoek van CEO Mike Wens. “In een doctoraat probeer je grenzen te verleggen in snelheid, spanning, temperatuur- en stralingshardheid”, vertelt Jef Thoné, de co-founder en chief technology officer. MinDCet telt binnenkort vijftien medewerkers, met vorig jaar een omzet van 1,3 miljoen euro, ongeveer 15 procent groei en een courante bedrijfskasstroom van meer dan 20 procent.
He bedrijf focust op chips op basis van siliciumcarbide (SiC) of galliumnitride (GaN), die veel sneller schakelen dan klassieke halfgeleiders. “Dat geeft minder energieverlies, je kan je elektronica veel compacter maken of een kleinere koeling inbouwen”, zegt Thoné. “In consumentenelektronica zul je ze niet gauw zien. Ze zijn nog tien keer duurder dan de klassieke siliciumchips.”
Het kapitaal voor MinDCet kwam van de KU Leuven en Allegro Investment Fund. Het Vlaams Agentschap voor Innovatie en Ondernemen gaf in twee fasen 400.000 euro steun aan de starter. Eén keer voor de ontwikkeling van MadMix, een toestel dat de efficiëntie van spoelen meet (een cruciale component in vermogensomzetters). “Een nicheproduct dat nu in de labo’s van 80 procent van de spoelenfabrikanten staat”, zegt Thoné. De tweede subsidie ging naar de ontwikkeling van een eigen driver om een GaN-vermogenstransistor aan te sturen. Dat is de elektronica die ervoor zorgt dat de GaN-chip doet waarvoor hij gebouwd is. “Er zijn weinig fabrikanten die GaN-producten samen met die drivers aanbieden”, zegt Thoné. MinDCet test prototypes van zo’n vermogensmodule en wil die binnenkort op proef aan klanten leveren.
Op de referentielijst van MinDCet staan namen zoals Cochlear, ON Semi, NXP, Xeikon, GE, Melexis, Würth Elektronik of ThalesAlenia Space. Organisch groeien blijft de boodschap. Thoné: “Wij hebben niet direct een plan om grote kapitalen aan te trekken.”