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Air's Stephen Graham and Swindon Innovation Centre Manager, Phil Merrick
Air's Stephen Graham and Swindon Innovation Centre Manager, Phil Merrick

Internal News - 27 September 2006

Innovation Centre puts electronics company on road to global success

Two entrepreneurs at the University of Bath in Swindon have taken their electronics company, Air Semiconductor, from launch to a successful European company in less than a year.

David Tester, an engineer from Swindon, joined the University’s Innovation Centre at the end of 2005 with a leading-edge idea for developing a new semiconductor, or micro-electronic component, for mobile phones.

Once housed within the Innovation Centre, the University’s launch pad for technology-based, high growth businesses, he used its facilities and resources to forge ahead with his idea, making the most of the expert support and guidance on offer to support his ambitions.

The centre introduced Mr Tester to Pond Ventures, a venture capital fund with a strong track record in working closely with entrepreneurs to build European technology into global companies.

Through the introduction he met Stephen Graham, now business partner and Vice President with responsibility for marketing the company. With seven years spent in marketing at Renesas Technology Europe, a large semiconductor company, they were a perfect fit.

Together they secured a large amount of funding from Pond to enable them to move on to the next level. In May of this year they officially founded their company, Air Semiconductor Inc, with Mr Tester, who had worked as a semiconductor designer and manager for a number of different companies, most recently Dialog Semiconductor, becoming Chief Executive Officer. They have now recruited six staff, half of them from Swindon.

Support from the Innovation Centre continues, with plans to introduce the directors to American investors in Silicon Valley. Without the University’s connections it could take a company many years to tap into this market.

Phil Merrick, Manager of the Innovation Centre at the University, is delighted at the potential that Air Semiconductor brings to the University and Swindon as a whole.

“The nature of high-tech companies is that competition is hot on your heels, so Air are rightly operating in what’s known as ‘stealth mode’, keeping their cards to their chest,” he said.

“It’s safe to say though that the speed with which they have progressed through the Innovation Centre, and the level of backing they’ve achieved, points to a very exciting development in the global semiconductor market.”

Mr Merrick was appointed in May as the first dedicated manager for the Swindon Innovation Centre. With a strong background in marketing and brand management, corporate strategic development and regional business development, he is assigned with taking forward the Centre’s achievements and its growing reputation in business incubation.

Air Semiconductor is quick to acknowledge the role played by the Innovation Centre in the company’s burgeoning success. “When David joined the Innovation Centre he was an engineer with a bright idea,” said Stephen Graham. “The facilities of the centre helped set him off in the right direction.”

“It provided the company with an ideal environment to get started in. In the early days it meant there were a whole set of concerns that we didn’t have to worry about. Of course though the highest value was the introduction to each other and the introduction to investors."

The Innovation Centre currently has around 15 ventures pursuing ambitious development plans within its SETsquared Business Acceleration Centre.

The SETsquared partnership includes the Universities of Bath, Bath in Swindon, Bristol, Southampton, and Surrey, all supporting early-stage, potential high-growth technology ventures, both from within and outside the universities. Each centre provides entrepreneurs and business professionals with business mentoring, guidance and affordable office space.

“The Innovation Centre is all about investor readiness,” said Phil Merrick. “We measure our success by the amount of funding that we help clients to realise. We work with very high calibre clients who stand to make a very significant contribution to Swindon’s economic growth and development.”