SITRI: Startup Funding And Support

Shanghai Industrial Technology Research Institute provides slate of services for startups in Silicon Valley.


Describing exactly what the Shanghai Industrial μTechnology Research Institute is like trying to read the fine print on a moving object. The organization is constantly in motion, shifting from one set of services to another, depending upon the recipient’s needs, and redefining itself as it goes. The central theme is to promote and further the interest of startups working on “More Than Moore” approaches, but how to achieve those goals varies greatly.

SITRI was founded about two years ago as a collaborative effort between the Shanghai government and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The organization added a Silicon Valley office last month, and has created a similar organization in Taiwan. So far, the vast majority of SITRI’s investments have been in China, but that’s about to change.

China’s investments in Silicon Valley up until now have been rather modest and low-key. Despite being one of the world’s largest economies—with Shanghai as its financial hub—the country has been comparatively subdued when it comes to outside investments. U.S.-based companies, in contrast, have been pushing in the opposite direction for about a quarter century, first because of cheap labor and now because of a huge internal market that can afford advanced electronics. What’s changed over the past decade is that China is now fully staffed with scientific and engineering expertise. Money is beginning to flow, along with that talent, in the reverse direction.

“This was started as a way to support and catalyze new companies doing MEMS and sensors,” said Peter Himes, general manager of SITRI’s Silicon Valley office. “Part of the motivation for the office here is that there are a lot of startups in Silicon Valley, but VCs have other interests now besides semiconductor companies these days.”

How and when in an organization’s timeline SITRI makes those investments varies greatly. In some cases it’s an end-to-end support structure, from shaping initial ideas to investment capital all the way through to engineering and supply chain support. In others, it may be just one of those pieces or something created specifically for a startup or even an existing company.

“This is a new model for business entrepreneurship,” Himes said. “There already are overseas investors looking to invest in U.S. startups. We look at this as politically sensitive. Any investments in strategic or military are subject to the same reviews you might expect, but the majority of technologies we’re looking at are not those kind of companies. These are primarily IoT appliances, sensors, automotive and robotics. It’s more consumer than industrial.”

How this plays out, and whether SITRI will be more successful than previous organizations, remains to be seen. Himes noted that China started up a MEMS business about five years ago using large factories, but the effort failed. SITRI takes an opposite approach, funding startups rather than pouring cash into large companies, with a highly flexible business plan. At the very least, a lot of people will be watching this model closely, both inside and outside of China.

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