Dr. Brad Quinton is the quintessential academic entrepreneur. CEO of his second startup company, Invionics Inc., and an adjunct professor at University of British Columbia, he has spent the past two decades working seamlessly with both academia and industry across Canada’s National Design Network.
Along the way, he has leveraged the knowledge gained and lessons learned in each milieu for the benefit of both—from developing tools that help microchip companies compete, to guiding the next generation of microsystems innovators.
Dr. Quinton worked for five years as a VLSI developer and project lead at PMC-Sierra before beginning his doctorate at the University of British Columbia, working under Dr. Steven Wilton in the Faculty of Applied Science’s System on Chip Laboratory. At the same time he kept his foot in industry through consulting work. That combined experience helped him to commercialize his academic research on electronic design automation (EDA) and embedded instrumentation.
“I was fortunate to be very in touch with industry during my research,” he says.
His doctoral research on flexible, lightweight and powerful embedded instruments was the foundation for the company he helped to found in 2009 with Dr. Wilton. Veridae Systems Inc. developed and sold an embedded instrument product called Certus™, a novel debugging and validation tool that enabled companies to dramatically reduce their development costs and time to market. The product was timely, addressing the development gaps created by the growing complexity and faster operating speeds of integrated circuits.
As the technology developed, Quinton became the company’s CTO. Success came soon after: in 2011 he and his partners sold Veridae to Tektronix Inc., and continued working for the new owners until 2013, when the Certus product line was sold to another firm, Mentor Graphics Corporation. Today companies around the world use the Certus product.
CMC Microsystems made his entrepreneurial career possible, Dr. Quinton says. “My PhD work was heavily supported by CMC’s CAD tool libraries, such as those from Synopsys and Cadence, and other key silicon technologies, which I couldn’t have afforded on my research budget,” he says. “It was very important for me to validate my research and my proposed architectures, and using those industry-standard CAD tools was critical to my PhD.
“Having these tools also gave me and my startup team the confidence that our idea would work, and that we could do this before deciding to launch the company,” he says. Once Veridae was up and running, CMC also helped its flagship tool find traction by providing it to other researchers across Canada’s National Design Network.
Today Quinton and his group are once again focusing their energies on creating value-added solutions for companies. Their Vancouver-based company, Invionics Inc., makes and sells an EDA development platform, Invio, that allows chipmakers and design houses to easily and quickly write new tools and scripts. Critically, the short cuts, tricks and custom features they add to the platform remain in-house, so companies can easily customize to gain proprietary advantages in their design flow.
The heart of the Invio platform is the RTL Processing Engine, which Quinton says is designed from the ground-up to be intuitive and efficient. It covers both synthesizable “design” RTL as well as testbench code, and the full-range of SystemVerilog and VHDL constructs. It makes EDA tasks available through the Python and Tcl scripting languages.
Companies are not the only ones gaining advantage from Quinton’s novel technologies. As an Adjunct Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at UBC, he teaches and does research in VLSI design and associated CAD tools.
This allows him to continue to be a bridge between academe and the private sector, and even to recruit co-op students for his company. For both Quinton and his students, it’s a good fit. As a CMC “alum”, he has introduced his students to CAD tools such as Cadence, Synopsys and Mentor Graphics.
“I teach fourth-year and graduate-level courses, and I make sure my students get access to these industry-quality tools. I’m also revamping the graduate-level VLSI course to push more of these real tools and real flows into the curriculum. I’d also like to get these students using Invio, and we’d eventually like to distribute that through CMC to encourage academic development.”
Providing his students with the same opportunities to experience advanced tools, he says, helps to create future academic entrepreneurs.