Chip champ: semiconductor engineering firm XtremeEDA acquired by Accenture

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On a birthday that would probably see more than a few entrepreneurs contemplating which golf courses they intend to frequent in retirement, Claude Cloutier was celebrating a new lease on his long tech career.

Last Thursday, the day Cloutier turned 64, the Cornwall native received a gift that he hopes will truly keep on giving: XtremeEDA, the Ottawa-based chip engineering firm he founded in 2002, closed an agreement to be acquired by global professional services giant Accenture.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it’s safe to say Cloutier, the company’s largest shareholder, will be handsomely rewarded. 

While a lot of founders in his position might see such a transaction as the perfect opportunity to dash for the exit, Cloutier says he’s not going anywhere. He’s having way too much fun.

“The universe will unfold as it should, right?” a beaming Cloutier told Techopia via Zoom from his home on Vancouver Island on Tuesday. “This is way too exciting for me to go away for any length of time. I’m super pumped.”

Now at 40 employees, XtremeEDA specializes in designing and testing silicon chips for some of the world’s biggest semiconductor manufacturers. 

Cloutier said business is booming as the growing proliferation of items in the so-called Internet of Things – items from cars to fridges that wirelessly communicate with each other to allow consumers to, say, turn up their thermostats using their smartphones – mean computer chips are now found in nearly every consumer item you can think of.

Claude Cloutier
Claude Cloutier is the founder of XtremeEDA.

'They're everywhere'

“They’re in your refrigerator, they’re in your smartphone, they’re in your car,” he explained. “They’re everywhere. We’re at the heart of those systems in terms of the computer chip hardware – the design and the functional testing.”

Nearly half of XtremeEDA’s engineering gurus are located in the National Capital Region. The firm focuses on “micro-architecture” work, helping semiconductor manufacturers design and test circuits in complex chips that often contain billions of transistors – what Cloutier refers to as “leading-edge stuff” as cloud-based networks, machine learning and AI drive demand for ever-faster and more powerful computing technology.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said with a grin. 

An air force veteran who holds a master’s degree in leadership and training as well as a master’s and PhD in human and organizational systems, Cloutier spent a decade as an analyst and engineer at several Ottawa tech companies before launching XtremeEDA.

"Our reputation was the most important thing to us, and when you start taking external money, you don’t know what that will do to your reputation and the direction of the company."

The venture was bootstrapped from the start. Heeding the sage advice of a “guy with grey hair” who pulled him aside at a trade show in the early days and said: “Claude, don’t borrow money if you don’t have to,” he’s resisted all temptation to pursue venture capital in the two decades since.

“That was the best advice I could’ve ever had back then,” he said. “(Raising capital) was never appealing enough. Our reputation was the most important thing to us, and when you start taking external money, you don’t know what that will do to your reputation and the direction of the company.”

Not that it’s been all wine and roses. The dot-com bust of the early 2000s and the Great Recession of 2008-09 led to some sleepless nights, but Cloutier and his team persevered. 

The company has been a consistent money-maker for more than a decade, but Cloutier was getting the sense that the firm he calls his “baby” had grown about as much as it could on its own and needed the financial and organizational support of a larger partner to take the next step.

In Accenture – which does business in more than 120 countries and works with the world’s leading silicon chip manufacturers on end-to-end design – Cloutier says he’s found exactly that.

“We have a lot of similar clients, and our reputation preceded us,” he said. “They said, ‘You know what? We really want to expand our services, and you want to do the same thing. Would you be interested in getting together?’ I said absolutely. Our clients were asking to grow in a way that we couldn’t handle. Getting together with Accenture allows us to really offer the depth and breadth of services that we’re being asked for.”

In three months, the deal was done.

“It was just a nice conversation,” Cloutier said. “It was very easy. This is a marriage made in heaven.”