“Many investors have been busy with two things recently: one is to look at the blockchain, and the other is to look at the chips.” At a recent venture capital summit forum, an investor who participated in the roundtable discussion said. Since the ZTE incident, the company has quietly set off a chip R&D boom. In addition to ZTE’s intention to increase its core chip R&D investment, Alibaba also announced the acquisition of Zhongtian Microsystems’ AI chip industry. "The chip is unwavering," and recently announced that Gree air conditioner will use its own chip next year. There are also entrepreneurs who are chasing the wind and have joined the chip startup.
This "national remediation" of the domestic chip seems to give people the possibility that the Chinese chip is about to bend over the road. However, on the one hand, the rapid rise of industry demand, on the one hand, it is an industry atmosphere of quick success. How to face the status quo of domestic chips, how to find the way to solve the pain points, how to go for chip investment? Some insiders pointed out that the threshold of the chip industry is extremely high, and only entrepreneurs and investment talents who truly understand this profession are likely to succeed. Therefore, entrepreneurs should not blindly follow, and investors can't encourage chasing the wind.
Manufacturing and materials links "behind"
At the moment, there is one thing that plays a key role in the high-speed operation of the information society. This is a small integrated circuit, which is commonly known as the "chip." Chen Chuanhong, director of the major special affairs office of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said in an interview with the media that the manufacturing technology of the chip is the highest level of micro-processing technology in the world today, and it is the strategic high point of the global high-tech national competition.
However, China's high-end manufacturing equipment and materials for integrated circuits are heavily dependent on imports. In addition, the developed countries such as the United States have strict censorship and restrictions on these materials exported to China, and our integrated circuit development has been constrained.
However, with the rapid development of China's national economy, especially the acceleration of the informationization process, the demand for integrated circuit products continues to grow rapidly. According to statistics, since 2006, integrated circuit products have surpassed oil to become the largest imported product in China. From 2013 to now, the annual import volume has exceeded 200 billion US dollars.
It is understood that the industrial chain of the chip industry is very long, including design, manufacturing, packaging, testing, assembly and other aspects. Compared with the western developed countries such as the United States, where is the chip industry in China falling behind? After researching the chip industry and examining a number of chip-related projects, Shi Anping, the chief partner and CEO of China Venture Capital, found that the two links between manufacturing and materials are the biggest gap between China's chip industry and foreign countries.
"From the perspective of manufacturing, the investment required for this link is quite large, up to 10 billion yuan, and it is not just the problem of money. We don't have the core production equipment needed for the manufacturing process, nor do we produce smaller threads. The technology of more sophisticated products, so high-end products can not come out." Shi Anping said. In addition, he also said that from the material point of view, a considerable part of China's high-purity silicon wafers are imported, which is why we need to "replenish classes."
Although there is still a huge gap between the above two links and the international advanced level, there is one link that can catch up with overseas. This is chip design. "Because of the gradual opening up of the country and the increase in the number of returned overseas students in related majors, the chip design link is the shortest distance between China and abroad," said Shi Anping. However, he also admitted that from the raw material production equipment, to the inspection equipment, to the manufacturing equipment, we are lacking. If foreign countries are "discontinued" on these core equipments, then the design is just as good as "paper talk."
After the ZTE incident, the people raised a wave of discussion and reflection. Since the reform and opening up 40 years ago, China has achieved such great economic achievements, but why is a small chip not doing well? After working for eight years at Qualcomm's headquarters in the United States, Yang Yafei, a doctor of electronic engineering who is returning to China to start a business, told reporters that China has previously been able to produce chips on its own, but the products they produced were used for military work. The standard of civil use, that is, the price does not come, the specifications are not small enough and not precise. “The reason is that there is no way to scale production, it can only be done in the laboratory. Once you contact the factory for production, you will encounter big problems, mainly due to technical and talent problems that restrict mass production.”
Have entered the chip industry
“When we looked at the chip project in the past few years, there was very little interest in the industry. But this year, everyone’s enthusiasm for the chip project has obviously increased a lot, and even some investors are blindly snapped up.” A responsible person of a state-owned background investment fund The reporter said.
Some investors told reporters that their investment in chip projects has also been sought after by many investment institutions, and valuations have risen shortly after the completion of the investment. It is not difficult to find that the hottest market in the market this year is in the field of AI chips. The head enterprises in the field, Shangtang Technology and Cambrian, have carried out several rounds of financing this year, and the valuations are very high.
In addition, various capitals, including Internet giants and home appliance giants, have increased their investment in the domestic chip industry. After the ZTE incident, Alibaba wholly acquired a supplier of embedded CPU IP - Hangzhou Zhongtian Microsystems Co., Ltd. On the "Future Forum X Shenzhen Summit" on May 26 this year,TencentMa Huateng, chairman and CEO of the company's controlling board, hinted that it might design software compatible with Chinese chips and operating systems in the future.
Chairman of Gree Electric Co., Ltd. Dong Mingzhu said that Gree will invest 50 billion yuan into the chip field, and Gree air-conditioning will use all its chips next year. Then Konka Group also announced that Konka Group will set up the semiconductor technology business unit and formally enter the army. Semiconductor industry.
Yuanhe origin, which has long tracked the IC industry, has also invested in the Cambrian in the near future. Le Jinxin, a partner of the company, said that as early as 2005, there was a wave of investment in integrated circuits in China, but from the industrial chain to technology to talents. To the market is not mature, only a small part of the company survived. From the perspective of the development cycle of the entire chip industry, it takes two to three years to see the prototype of the product, and five years to do the landing and promotion, so it takes at least eight years before and after.
Overall, the high input cost, high threshold and long cycle are the characteristics of the chip industry. In response to questions from the outside world, Zhu Xiaohu, the managing director of Jinshajiang Venture Capital, said that China VC is not not investing in chips, but that several of the previous investments have been lost, which has caused chip investment to fall into a circle of not making money. But in fact, chip investment is not necessarily a business that loses money. "It's just a long cycle. Once success is like printing a banknote, the chip's upfront investment is large, but the gross margin is very high," said Shi Anping. Yang Yafei also agrees with this view, and the companies such as Qualcomm and Intel have been able to prove this.
The investment boom has triggered an industrial bubble?
The chip industry is booming. One view is that there are many semiconductor funds, few good projects, high valuations of industrial enterprises, and bubbles in the industry. Another point of view is that China's semiconductor companies' research and development investment is far from sufficient, and it requires more long-term and sustained investment of funds at all levels. But no matter how you look at it, the project valuation is high and talent competition is really happening.
"Now learning computer and electronic communication want to do this, there is indeed a big talent bubble." Yang Yafei told reporters that this bubble is actually a price bubble caused by the flood of funds and related professional talent supply. The reporter also learned from some institutions that some institutions that want to enter the chip investment are not willing to attract investment managers at high prices, but these investment managers are not really familiar with the entire life cycle of the industry.
"Now the domestic level of good talents in this area is even higher than that of foreign countries." Le Jinxin believes that capital chasing a certain vertical industry will inevitably lead to a rise in salary levels. But in his view, promoting the development of the industry requires a tolerance bubble. If not, it will be difficult to attract funds and eyeballs.
Shi Anping believes that no matter from technologyDevelopmentThe talent pool or the talent reserve of the investment institutions needs to be calm. “First, not all chip projects are suitable for this fund investment, nor are all talents required to reserve. The application areas covered by chips are very wide and cannot be covered by one organization.”
As far as the chip industry talents are concerned, Shi Anping believes that on the whole, the reserve of college graduates in China is sufficient, but it needs to be exercised in practice, but the leading talents are lacking. Currently, it is necessary to introduce from overseas or encourage study abroad. Talents return to China.
The competition for good projects is not inferior to the competition for talents. "Now many institutions come to us." Yang Yafei said. The reporter also learned from some investment institutions that after some projects were invested, the valuation would soon rise, and as long as there are good projects known to the industry, there will be a bunch of institutions flocking to the real estate and industry. The boss wants to enter. "Objectively speaking, this is a good thing. Everyone makes up the class and realizes the importance of this thing in the information age." Yang Yafei believes that this can promote the industry.
Left to entrepreneurs
What are the opportunities?
For China's chip industry, how far away from foreign countries means how much room for development. At present, the manufacturing links that restrict the development of the chip industry chain are unable to get involved because of the huge investment. In the view of Shi Anping, the state should increase its efforts to focus on supporting this link, and it must have a division of labor.
“There are many components and many devices on the core equipment chain of the manufacturing process. One of the components and one device may be a place where small businesses and entrepreneurs can make a difference.” In addition, the application market and space of the chip are very Big, entrepreneurs can take advantage of the specific chip application market.
In the view of Le Jinxin, the terminal market of the chip is a larger market, but there must be a certain amount in the terminal application. If it is a niche product, the revenue will not be worthwhile. However, it is undeniable that the track of these terminal applications is basically occupied by big brands, forming a certain brand structure, leaving little space for startup companies, and these brands can also make chips themselves.
After the ZTE incident, from the state to the local to the enterprise, they have placed the chip in a very important position. Can China overtake the corner at this node? "If we want to overtake a car, we can't unrealistically overtake. After all, technology needs a process of accumulation. It can be used for reference and technology to digest, but it cannot be developed at once." Shi Anping said.
It is undeniable that the state has profoundly realized the importance of developing the chip industry from the policy and fund level. In addition to the large funds of the integrated circuit industry, there are also industrial funds with state-owned assets, which are in full layout from local to central. However, Shi Anping also pointed out that this must not lack the overall planning of the country.
In fact, some of the current domestic chip investment boom is really hot. For example, driven by demand, memory prices have risen sharply, and investment in chip storage is very hot. But there are still some, such as artificial intelligence, these markets are too small, and even overcapacity. Therefore, in the view of Shi Anping, the state should avoid unbalanced competition with overall planning, and should not appear in a certain direction and be lost in other directions. “The amount of investment is very large. If the imbalance will cause huge waste, it is necessary to strengthen the layout.”