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Quintessent lands $11.5M to advance optical interconnects

19 Mar 2024

Santa Barbara startup is developing quantum-dot frequency comb lasers for applications in 'accelerated' computing.

Quintessent, a spin-out from John Bowers’ photonics research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), says it has closed an oversubscribed round of seed funding worth $11.5 million.

Intended to aid its development of ultra-high-speed optical interconnects incorporating heterogeneous silicon photonics and quantum dot (QD) lasers, the latest support comes from a group of venture backers led by Osage University Partners (OUP).

The round also featured a new investor in the form of M Ventures, with further participation from existing supporters Sierra Ventures, Foothill Ventures, and Entrada Ventures.

AI-catalyzed transition
Saying that new photonic connectivity is needed to match the progression of high-speed computing required by the development of artificial intelligence (AI) applications, Quintessent has been working closely with Israel-headquartered foundry partner Tower Semiconductor. Tower offers silicon photonics foundry services on 200 mm wafer diameters at its Newport Beach, California, facility.

A year ago Tower and Quintessent claimed a world first, with their demonstration of O-band QD lasers based on a gallium arsenide (GaAs) platform, heterogeneously integrated with a commercial foundry silicon photonics process.

“The proliferation of AI is catalyzing a rapid transition and growth of the world’s computing infrastructure from general purpose architectures to ones specifically designed for accelerated computing,” stated the startup.

Those “accelerated” computing requirements demand high-speed interconnections that, at the moment, represent a critical bottleneck to accelerating wider system performance at scale.

“Achieving sustainable growth of computing and data movement will require new technologies and architectures that can match the rapid progression of bandwidth (density) scaling from computing and switching interfaces while simultaneously minimizing power, latency, fiber count, chip size, and total cost of ownership,” adds Quintessent - also noting that significant improvements in reliability will be required.

QD comb laser
Alan Liu, the firm’s CEO and co-founder with Bowers, said in a statement announcing the seed round: “This new funding allows us to grow our team and accelerate the development of highly scalable and highly reliable optical interconnects that transcend the scaling limitations of incumbent solutions, built on top of a unique technology stack including our multi-wavelength comb laser.”

Liu, who completed his PhD in Bowers’ lab, added in a LinkedIn post: “This new round of funding will accelerate our quest to create a new class of optical compute interconnects with scalable and reliable foundations.”

Manny Stockman, a partner at OUP who is now set to join Quintessent’s board of directors, also commented:

“Novel chip-scale laser architectures have rarely been the focus of today’s photonics companies because the industry is still so nascent and focused in on engineered solutions.

“But at OUP, as we observed various AI and computing hardware companies push the limits of bandwidth and packaging with optical systems, we found they were all challenged by the scaling and cost of their optical laser source.

“Quintessent’s plans to productize interconnect solutions powered by multi-wavelength quantum-dot comb lasers may become one of the most critical product developments in photonics at just the right time to intercept the surging demand for optical connectivity at the largest computing corporations in the world.”

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