Intelligent move: Ottawa's TechInsights acquires San Jose-based market research firm VLSI

Jason Abt
Jason Abt is chief technology officer at Ottawa-based TechInsights. Photo courtesy TechInsights

An Ottawa company that gives global semiconductor giants detailed breakdowns of how their competitors’ technology works has joined forces with a leading Silicon Valley market research firm as it looks to broaden its corporate intelligence skills.

TechInsights said this week it has acquired VLSI Research, a San Jose-based company that provides economic and market analysis of the semiconductor industry. Financial terms of the deal, which closed on Monday, were not disclosed.

“It’s an incredible coming together of technology and market forecasting that nobody else has,” TechInsights chief technology officer Jason Abt told OBJ on Wednesday. 

Abt said that while the last few years have been “very, very strong” for the Ottawa company, demand for its research has skyrocketed during the pandemic as sales of semiconductors surged in a world where wireless communications technology and connected devices are more pervasive than ever.

“With that came the strong need for the kind of competitive technical intelligence that we provide as well as the forecasting that VLSI provides,” he explained.

"More and more our customers are looking for the crystal ball – not just on the technology side, but what’s going on on the market side."

“More and more our customers are looking for the crystal ball – not just on the technology side, but what’s going on on the market side.”

Although TechInsights has long operated in the shadow of better-known local tech trailblazers from Nortel to Shopify, the company is a major player in the under-of-the-radar field of semiconductor reverse engineering.

Its roots stretch back to the 1980s, when local tech firm MOSAID began dissecting the components of semiconductor memory devices, producing reports that included detailed circuit schematics and other analysis. 

In 1989, MOSAID’s reverse engineering business was spun off as a company called Semiconductor Insights, which was later rebranded TechInsights.

The firm eventually merged with fellow Ottawa tech intelligence provider Chipworks in 2016 and has continued to grow steadily since. Today, the company employs 200 people in the National Capital Region and an additional 200 at offices in Denver, Warsaw and now northern California, with sales and support staff in Europe and Asia.

TechInsights’ engineers go under the hood of everything from iPhones to high-tech Lidar sensors used in self-driving vehicles, meticulously taking the devices apart and giving a piece-by-piece breakdown of the components, how they work and what they cost. 

Subscription-based platform

The company then shares its findings in detailed reports, blogs and videos that it sells to clients on an annual subscription basis through its online platform. 

Abt said TechInsights now has hundreds of customers, including some of the biggest names in semiconductors and electronics as well as law firms and government agencies, although the company won’t publicly identify them.

“If you were to name a leading semiconductor company, you’d know who we’re working with,” Abt said.

In a fiercely competitive industry where companies are looking for every edge they can get on their corporate rivals, TechInsights’ findings are a valuable commodity.

“Our customers aren’t going to blindly copy what they see because it’s proprietary,” Abt said. “But they can learn from it, just like you would learn from looking at a patent. It’s no different from Ford buying the latest GMC or Chevy product. That happens all the time.”

Microchip manufacturers such as Intel, Qualcomm and others have the know-how to do the job themselves, but Abt said they usually prefer to focus on developing their own technology and leave the reverse engineering to companies like TechInsights that have spent years learning the inner workings of thousands of products from hundreds of manufacturers.     

“Although a lot of customers have the technical capability to understand what we do, it’s by no means cost-effective,” he said. “It just makes sense financially for them to come to us.”

From the archives