A UCSB professor and alumnus received $38 million in funding for their technology start-up company Transphorm late last month.
Electrical and computer engineering professor Umesh Mishra and UCSB graduate Primit Parikh, who received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, founded Transphorm in 2007 to explore and market innovations in energy conservation. Several venture capital organizations, including Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins and Lux Capital, invested millions in the company, which helped pioneer the use of gallium nitride for power conversions.
Transphorm’s technology uses gallium nitride, or GaN, to eliminate 90 percent of the energy waste emitted when devices such as computers, electric cars and solar panels transform a direct or alternating current into another form of power, according to Mishra.
According to Parikh, Mishra’s initial research into optimizing power conversions fueled the company’s innovative use of GaN and subsequent success.
“Transphorm started out with novel ideas in various areas, some coming out of research done at UCSB in professor Umesh Mishra’s group,” Parikh said. “As we focused on our value proposition and impact we can have on power conversion, it was clear that the GaN solutions we develop will completely redefine power conversion and enable significant energy savings across a variety of applications.”
Mishra said funding from investors allowed the team to adapt campus-level research for a competitive business enterprise.
“The people who have funded this are really the A-team of venture capital,” Mishra said. “It’s kind of the storybook of research being done at UCSB and taken out into the market — creating jobs and helping the community.”
Transphorm has already acquired more than 30 patents aiming to revolutionize the way different applications emit and transform power.
According to Mishra, GaN is not a new material, but the company is applying it in an innovative way as an efficient alternative to silicon.
“Humankind has tried to be more efficient and more efficient, but it has come to a halt,” Mishra said. “The material being used was silicon and it has reached its limit. The next great superconductor is gallium nitride. At UCSB we are the world leaders in GaN, mainly for L.E.D. applications. UCSB has led the world. … Everyone thought this would be the future, and it’s now.”
In simple terms, Mishra said the rectangular ‘brick’ often attached to laptop chargers is an example of today’s inefficient power conversion appliances that needlessly give off energy waste as heat. According to Transphorm’s website, U.S. businesses spend about $40 billion a year on these inefficient power conversions.
Mishra said he attributes much of Transphorm’s success to the excellent resources and research offered at UCSB.
“I want to convey to students that UCSB is one of the engines of innovation for the country,” Mishra said. “To be a student at UCSB is to participate in a quality that is rising. To me, it’s a place to be counted among the few universities in the country that create technology and contribute to the economy — not many universities can say they do that well. We have positioned ourselves to be the best. We are the best in the world at what we do.”
Parikh said Transphorm and UCSB will develop a symbiotic relationship as the company gains success and the university continues to prioritize research.
“We actively recruit from our community,” Parikh said. “We have also created world-class technology as well as a manufacturing center right here in our area. Ultimately we hope the solutions we develop will get deployed and help save energy.”