Call Claude Gauthier (MSE PhD EE ’97 ’99) a “global personality.” A Canadian with two Michigan degrees, a Silicon Valley career, founder of international company OmniPhy, and customers across six continents, he’s navigated his connections to destinations he never expected. According to Claude, his connections – to Michigan, to customers, to colleagues, to everybody – are the keys to success, his “secret sauce” to life. He’s now CTO of a specialty semiconductor company that’s about connections between computer chips. And with more than 100 patents to his name, he’s also about innovation.
Dr. Gauthier is co-founder and CTO of the semiconductor interface intellectual property (IP) company, OmniPhy. He’s kept a competitive edge in a crowded marketplace by listening to the needs of his customers, and to the pulse of the market. OmniPhy’s niche is Ethernet, commonly used for Internet connections in personal computers and devices and now expanding into new industrial and automotive applications.
The Victor’s Path
Claude’s training started at the University of Western Ontario, where he was top of his class studying electrical engineering. He gave up a full graduate scholarship to take his chances at the University of Michigan. He entered Michigan as a master’s student and was mentored by Prof. Ron Lomax. In 1997, he transitioned to be part of Prof. Rich Brown’s research team as a doctoral student.
“The University of Michigan is the #1 school in computer IC design, and the faculty are always pursuing big things,” said Claude. “I knew I had to come to Michigan. When I arrived, I was even more impressed at the non-technical aspects – the clubs, the opportunities to collaborate across the entire campus. I found that engaging with so many world-class faculty and students in this environment was incredibly enriching. The school taught me to engage by helping others and having fun.”
This perspective shaped Claude’s business strategy – a strategy backed by a solid record of hard-core research accomplishments. Prior to co-founding OmniPhy, he worked on server-class microprocessors at Sun Microsystems, leading edge graphics chips at ATI, and on the interconnect powering the world’s fastest supercomputer at Prism Circuits. He was also Director of Applications and Engineering with MoSys. There he lead the SerDes team that developed the 10.3 Gb/s SerDes that powered the companies flagship product, “The Bandwidth Engine.” The product was nominated for UBM TechInsight’s Most Innovative Memory Product in 2011.
OmniPhy: A Company about Connections
Claude founded OmnyPhy with two colleagues in 2012. Unlike many startups, the company has been able to grow without the help of venture capital by working with corporate partners. In this model, OmniPhy develops and licenses proprietary intellectual property to corporate partners, who leverage massive sales channels and global reach. This enables the company to focus on what it does best, and still capture tremendous market share and royalty streams. “The customers make the best teachers,” says Claude. “If we listen carefully and execute well, we make each other very happy.”
After providing successful products to several happy customers, the young startup landed the deal it needed to solidify its reputation. And now, its Ethernet technology is built into 70% of the world’s smart TV market.
Their current key project is automotive Ethernet, connecting electronics within the automobile, as well as to the Internet of Things. Familiar Ethernet technology has recently been optimized for use in automobiles, where it will enable radar, safety systems, infotainment, and even the car itself. In the next decade, Claude estimates, high-end cars may contain up to 200 Ethernet ports from just 2-3 today, turning automobiles into “smartphones on wheels.” The company is currently signing up customers who want this emerging standard in their automotive chips and systems, with a couple key geographies already on board.
Connecting EECS and the World
Claude made a visit to campus recently to share his experiences with students and faculty. He discussed startup lifestyle, his company’s latest tech, and his thoughts about the future of the automotive industry. And, of course, he emphasized all the while the importance of good connections.
“There are a lot of graduate students doing really cool stuff at Michigan,” he says. “If those people want to become entrepreneurs, they should know that there is a path for them. I try to show people how to commercialize their work.”
Through campus visits, talks and seminars, and personal mentoring, Claude hopes to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to make the most of their Michigan education to get ahead. And back home, he and fellow alumnus Michael McCorquodale (MSE PhD EE ’00 ’04) helped to drive and enable an alumni networking event in Silicon Valley in 2014. That event lead to the formation of a Bay Area EECS club for alumni looking to connect and collaborate. The club provides opportunities for socializing, and promotes giving back to the university.
My drive is to get Michigan people engaged with each other, and the school,” Claude says. “I want everyone to be able to tap the amazing collective power of this great institution well after they graduate.
MSE PhD EE ’97 ’99
Co-Founder and CTO, OmniPhy
“We partner with our customers and big companies, and they trust our credibility. You get credibility from the University of Michigan – and then from creating successful products.”
“Working without venture capitalists gives you the flexibility of working on smaller-scale technologies that can be overlooked by traditional venture capital firms, and yet grow to become terrific products in huge markets”
OmniPhy produces intellectual propery (IP) in physical layer (PHY) implementations of many technologies, including: Automotive Ethernet; Industrial Ethernet; 10/100 Ethernet PHY; 10/100/1000 Ethernet GPHY; HDMI; SerDes; PCI-E; USB.
The company has more than 70 employees in three executive offices (San Jose, CA, Hyderabad, India, and Bangalore, India), and customers on six continents.
OmniPhy was selected by SiliconIndia as one of the 20 Most Promising US Semiconductor Solution Providers