Arm offers early-stage startups free access to IP

Arm is expanding its Flexible Access program with the aim of accelerating innovation in areas like IoT, automotive and AI at the edge

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Arm on Wednesday announced it's offering early-stage startups free access to some of its most widely-used chip design IP, to accelerate innovation in areas like IoT, automotive, and AI at the edge. The new initiative is an expansion of Arm's existing Flexible Access program, which is geared more toward startups that have already secured funding. 

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The new Flexible Access for Startups program is open to startups with up to $5 million in funding. In addition to access to Arm's IP portfolio, startups in the program get access to Arm's ecosystem of silicon designers, software developers, support, training, and tools.

"Startups can now access portfolio IP without charge, they can experiment and prototype, design, manufacture, and test in the market with customers, without paying anything," Phil Burr, Arm's director of business transformation for Automotive and IoT, said to ZDNet. "We're doing this because we want to support startup innovation. Many startup companies have based their entire portfolio on Arm and have gone on to be really successful."

Both the Flexible Access and the Flexible Access for Startups programs offer access to more than 70 Arm products, including IP from the Arm Cortex-A, -R and -M processor families, select Arm Mali GPUs, ISPs, and other SoC building blocks. 

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Before the Flexible Access program launched last year, all companies interested in using Arm IP had to pay a license fee before accessing it. With Flexible Access, companies initially only pay a small annual fee for access to these products. More than 40 customers, ranging from large organizations to startups, are currently registered with the Flexible Access program. 

With Flexible Access for Startups, companies don't have to pay anything at all until their products move into commercial production. This gives startups much more freedom for experimentation. 

According to Arm, the new program could help startups lower risk and accelerate time-to-market by six to 12 months. 

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"It's great for companies that are trying to get funding, helping them prove their ideas and their capabilities to investors to help them along," Burr said. 

To illustrate the potential that Arm could tap into, the company commissioned a study from Semico Research, showing that in the last five years, silicon startups have received more than $1.3 billion in funding. There was a 10X increase in funding from 2016 to 2019. Meanwhile, more than a third of startups that have emerged in the past five years are targeting automotive, with another third targeting IoT applications.

As part of the new initiative, Arm is also partnering with Silicon Catalyst, an incubator focused on helping startups accelerate silicon solutions. The partnership similarly gives Silicon Catalyst members free access to Arm IP and other resources.