Auto Connectivity Specialist Valens Lists on NYSE

Article By : Nitin Dahad

Valens Semiconductor will list at a $1.16 billion valuation as it combines with a SPAC to advance its high-speed PHY connectivity chipsets.

Valens Semiconductor will list on the New York Stock Exchange via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) at a valuation of $1.16 billion. The Israel-based provider of high-speed connectivity chipsets for the audio-video and automotive markets has entered into a business combination agreement with PTK Acquisition Corp., a SPAC established by Peter Kuo, a Hong Kong and Silicon Valley-based investor.

Valens’ chipsets transmit video and data at multi-gigabit bandwidth over long-reach, space-efficient wiring infrastructure, which the company said enables error-free links with zero latency. Valens is established in the audio-video sector as a result of its invention of the HDBaseT connectivity standard for transmission of ultra-high-definition video and audio, Ethernet, controls, USB and up to 100W of power over a single, long-distance and cable. Those sectors are seeing strong growth fueled by a surge in demand for video conferencing, hybrid education and telemedicine.

However, the big play now for Valens is the significant growth opportunity in automotive connectivity solutions. Valens said it is pushing the next stages in the evolution of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving, which require an ever-increasing number of mission-critical vehicle sensors. Its high-speed connectivity platform is promoted as handling the massive amounts of data generated by these sensors. The company’s technology was selected as the baseline for MIPI A-PHY, a new industry standard long-reach physical layer interface enabling ADAS, in-vehicle entertainment and other surround-sensor requirements in automotive applications.

Valens Data center on wheels
Valens claims it is doing for automotive what Nvidia/Mellanox did for data centers. (Source: Valens). (Click on image to enlarge)

In a briefing with EE Times, Peter Kuo, CEO of PTK said Valens was chosen after considering more than 140 potential merger partners over the last seven months since the SPAC was established. Kuo cited the company’s contribution to standards, including its involvement with MIPI A-PHY. “The company had revenue, already has a strong play in automotive and is helping drive standards. This means it has a strong first mover advantage,” Kuo said.

“With Valens, PTK identified a rare opportunity to combine with a company that is defining the future of connectivity and is validated by multiple industry standards.” The investor also cited “a large addressable market, marquee customers and a compelling business model with a high degree of revenue visibility.”

Peter Kuo

Added Kuo, “The future of the car is undergoing dramatic change. Whether through the shift to electric or autonomous driving, the proliferation of data in current and next-generation vehicles has created a critical need to develop much faster and reliable means of transferring data within the car. Whether this data is generated by lidar, radar, sensors or cameras, it will need to be transmitted reliably and efficiently in order to enable the vehicle of the future.”

Standards driver

Valens is well positioned, he continued, via its technology for next-generation vehicle connectivity through the MIPI A-PHY standard. “This is an industry-approved benchmark validated by over 300 industry partners, including other automotive OEMs, Tier 1s and semiconductor companies. And as the leader in driving the MIPI-APHY standard, Valens is poised to dominate this standard and as a result, the future of high-speed in-vehicle connectivity.”

Valens employs 270 people mostly at its headquarters in Israel. It has so far shipped 25 million chips and forecasts revenue of $67 million in 2021. Of this, $8 million comes from automotive. The company expects the automotive share of its revenue to grow to 50 percent by 2025, when it projects a total revenue of $320 million.

Among its key automotive customers is Daimler. Mercedes will this year be using Valens’ chips across its passenger vehicles, starting from the high-end S-class series. In addition, the first Mercedes all-electric luxury sedan, the EQS, is already using multiple Valens chips in its infotainment system.

Daimler has been a Valens customer since 2016. Valens CFO Dror Heldenberg noted during the company’s webcast this week” “In 2016, Daimler announced their plans to embed Valens chipsets in multiple next-generation platforms across their model range. Since then, Daimler has become a very close partner for Valens and we are already on the road with Daimler’s cars. Valens was already awarded the gen 23 platform and is spec’ed in for the gen 25 models. So, this engagement will last at least through the end of the decade. And the estimated contracted value of this collaboration runs into hundreds of millions of dollars along the project life cycle.”

On average, Heldenberg added, every Mercedes car will be equipped with 3 to 4 Valens chips, generating up to $20 in revenue per vehicle. That works out to about $35 million in annual revenue.

Valens CEO Gideon Ben-Zvi also emphasized the auto connectivity opportunity. “Our chipsets are in high-volume production with several leading automotive Tier-1s and are currently on the road in Daimler vehicles. The automotive market presents an immense opportunity that will continue to grow as OEMs introduce new vehicles with far more sensors and displays than ever before.”

Design wins

The Valens audio-video chipset is designed into displays, video conferencing, medical devices and education devices made by Samsung, Creston, Logitech, Siemens Healthcare, and Epson. Highlighting the boost for video from the pandemic, he said, “At the beginning of 2020, Logitech was a small customer of ours, but within less than 10 months from the start of the pandemic Logitech became Valens’ second largest customer based purely on their video conferencing system.”

Valens Betting on MIPI A-PHY
With MIPI A-PHY gaining traction as an automotive high-speed connectivity standard, Valens asserts it is positioned to address the market with its first-mover market advantage in chipsets. (Source: Valens) (Click on image to enlarge)

Valens said funds raised through this listing will be used to accelerate development and commercialization of next-generation products and to fully fund the company through profitability.

Elaborating, Kuo added, “The company is working on its VA70xx, which is taping out via [Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.] now, and the next generation VA80xx series.  With the VA70xx series and link speeds of up to 8Gbps, this is much faster than anything else on the market.”

Last month, Valens announced successful tape-out of its VA70XX chipsets, said to be the first on the market to comply with the MIPI A-PHY standard. The samples are being evaluated by leading OEMs and Tier 1s, some of whom have included MIPI A-PHY connectivity in their product roadmaps. SoC and camera sensor vendors have also begun integrating the VA70XX into modules, and plan to integrate MIPI A-PHY into their future products.

The VA70XX family includes the VA7031 serializer and the VA7044 and VA7042 deserializers, operating with link speeds up to 8Gbps. The chipsets support connectivity of multiple CSI-2-based cameras, radars, lidars, and other sensors for up to 15 meters (50 feet), with 4 inline connectors. They offer a high immunity to electromagnetic interference with a packet error rate of 10-19, equivalent to one packet error per 10,000 car lifetimes.

Valens key investors
Valens’ key investors. (Source: Valens)

PTK was established in July 2020 by Kuo and advisors with expertise in the hardware and components sector. Kuo is also a founder of Canyon Bridge, an investor in Imagination Technologies. Another PTK executive, Ker Zhang, who will sit on the board of Valens, also advises Intel Capital and serves as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Kleiner Perkins. He also serves as executive chairman of Crossbar Inc, a developer of ReRAM technology.

Other PTK directors include Walden Rhines.

Other Valens investors include Mediatek and Samsung. This week’s deal is expected to close in the fall of 2021, delivering approximately $240 million of gross proceeds, including up to $115 million of cash held in PTK’s trust account and $125 million from a fully subscribed private investment in public equity offering led by a institutional investor along with Mediatek.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

Nitin Dahad is a correspondent for EE Times, EE Times Europe and also Editor-in-Chief of embedded.com. With 35 years in the electronics industry, he’s had many different roles: from engineer to journalist, and from entrepreneur to startup mentor and government advisor. He was part of the startup team that launched 32-bit microprocessor company ARC International in the US in the late 1990s and took it public, and co-founder of The Chilli, which influenced much of the tech startup scene in the early 2000s. He has also worked with many of the big names – including National Semiconductor, GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Dialog Semiconductor and Marconi Instruments.

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