Sophia Antipolis is in the south of France, a sort of research park carved out of scrubland on top of a plateau inland from Antibes (Antipolis is the Latin name for Antibes). It was created in the 1970s and built up slowly. The initial "companies" that located there were largely French government entities such as Air France (whose booking computers were located there), Ecole des Mines, INRIA and Thomson CSF (the defense company, nothing to do with semiconductors). Two big companies that moved in fairly early were Dow Chemical, whose European headquarters was there, and Digital Equipment Corporation. One decision made early on about Sophia was that only about 1/3 of the land would be developed, the rest would be left as forest. This makes for a different ambiance from Silicon Valley, with hi-tech buildings nestling among the trees and scrub.
My connection to Sophia is that VLSI Technology asked me to move there and open up a European R&D center. When I first started on the program, we hadn't decided where to locate the center. There were a number of obvious choices such as Cambridge, Paris or Munich, all of which already had electronic ecosystems in place. I talked to the head of Digital in Sophia and he told me a story that was very influential. Digital had planned to have two remote diagnosis centers for the Vaxes in Europe, one in Sophia and one in Reading (where they already had big site). The one in Sophia would cover southern Europe, the one in Reading would cover northern Europe. But it turned out that it was impossible to hire anyone in Reading from other countries. On the other hand, it was easy to get Swedes, Danes, Dutch, Germans and more to move to the south of France. The climate is almost the same as silicon valley, with no cold winters and no ridiculously unpleasant summers. Everyone who lived north of there wanted to move south because winters were unpleasant; everyone who lived south wanted to move north because summers were. It was the perfect latitude.
If we went to Cambridge, for example, we would have an English R&D center but we wanted a European center. So we decided to go to Sophia. This was Thanksgiving 1986, so 30 years ago, almost to the day. I flew from from California and Jacques-Olivier Piednoir, who had been my first hire, drove down from Nantes in an old Renault 4. Jacques-Olivier is now the VP European R&D for Cadence, but I'm getting ahead of the story.
Over time we built up the organization to about 50 people, split between software development, and library development. When we spun Compass Design Automation out of VLSI Technology, we had to partition the buildings.
Then two things then happened. Avant! acquired Compass Design Automation. Since Avant! had really acquired Compass for its library business and didn't care about its software business, the software team was uneasy. Cadence made them an offer. Literally, Shane Robison, the the VP Engineering at Cadence, flew over with an offer letter for each person. Everyone joined Cadence and a large fraction of those people are still in Cadence today.
The second thing that happened was the Philips Semiconductors acquired VLSI Technology. By then, VLSI Technology had built up a large successful business selling GSM (mobile) chipsets. Theo Classen, the CTO of Philips Semiconductors, told me that they acquired VLSI for two reasons: the communication business, and VLSI's ability to get an ASIC business up and running on a new process several years faster than Philips could themselves.
Eventually, Philips Semiconductors would be spun out of Philips as NXP. Then the part in Sophia was sold to ST. Then it was merged with Ericsson's platform business to create ST Ericsson. That business was rolled up eventually, and everyone ended up back in ST.
Along the coast at Villeneuve-Loubet, Texas Instruments had a big site where they did most of their mobile development. They had over 800 people there. When they decided to get out of mobile, that site was shut down. That building became part of Amadeus, a company originally set up with engineering in Sophia by Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa and SAS to handle their bookings and to compete with American Airlines owned SABRE. It is now independent.
One challenge a site like Sophia has is that it tends to be a secondary site for companies headquartered elsewhere. This makes it somewhat unstable as the corporate strategic winds change, and as M&A happens between the parent companies. Infineon set up a site at Sophia, ahd that became Intel when they acquired Infineon's mobile business. Samsung decided to set up a large group of a couple of hundred people here, mainly to take advantage of all the TI engineers who had just loss their jobs, and two years later they closed it down. Freescale hired many of the ex-TI ex-Samsung engineers. Then they got acquired by NXP. And now NXP is to be acquired by Qualcomm. Intel, meanwhile, decided to shut down its two offices in Sophia before discovering that they had a lot of products that depended on development at Sophia, including their LTE modem and their audio stack. They will still close, but very slowly.
Another newcomer is Bosch, who decided to set up their automotive semiconductor development in Sophia so that they could hire a team from ST. Apparently they deliberately did this far from their headquarters in Gerlingen (near Stuttgart in Germany) so that it wouldn't get micromanaged by the existing senior management (who knew lots about automotive but nothing about semiconductors).
Meanwhile, Broadcom and NVIDIA did have teams here but they shut down. Since ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, is in Sophia, everyone in mobile ended up with a team locally. But as companies have withdrawn from mobile, they have either shut down or reduced their operations in Sophia, Intel just being the latest.
Today it is not just Cadence and the other companies mentioned above that are located in Sophia in electronics, but also Huawei, IBM, Gemalto, ARM, HP, Hitachi, Toyota, ANSYS, and more. Plus a host of small companies that you will never have heard of. Qualcomm has a joint venture with TDK Electronics and are rumored to have acquired them and presumably will eventually fold the NXP operations in.
Cadence has nearly 60 people here, some in engineering but also providing offices space for some AEs and sales. The whole electronics ecosystem has come a long way from 1986 when it was just Jacques-Olivier and me in an office with no electricity, no network and no computers. Of course, like the increasingly mis-named Silicon Valley, more and more of the engineering is embedded software.
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