Looking Back at the Start of Mythic’s Journey
April 28, 2022
When Mythic was first founded, AI was seen as a mere curiosity for most IC companies. Now 10 years later, the AI market has exploded with hundreds of startups trying to capture the billions of dollars being spent on AI applications across almost every industry imaginable. In this post we’ll explore Mythic’s humble origins, long before Mythic started shaking up the silicon industry with a groundbreaking new approach to AI processor design.
“When Mythic was founded, the semiconductor industry believed that what we were doing with analog computing was destined to fail. At the same time, VCs weren’t yet interested in investing in a hardware startup, let alone one built by grad students around the idea of analog computing. As we began to validate our technology over the years, the AI market started to heat up and investors finally began to look for big and bold ideas that would shake up the chip industry,” said Mike Henry.
It all began in 2012 at the Michigan Integrated Circuits Laboratory at the University of Michigan. Mike Henry had received a SBIR grant to develop a low-power GPS accelerator. This was a challenge because the initial search and synchronization of satellites requires performing a large number of calculations, which is an energy-intensive and time-consuming process. Around the same time, Dave Fick was working on a government grant for a high-performance AI chip design. Both Mike and Dave realized that traditional digital approaches would not allow them to meet the power specifications of their target applications.
One of the student researchers, Laura Fick (then Freyman), had done her Ph.D thesis on analog compute at high precision on flash arrays. Mike, Dave, and Laura believed that analog compute was ready for a revival given new developments in flash, processes, and analog circuits, and saw analog compute as a much-needed step change to serve the insatiable and ever-increasing compute demands of AI.
“When researching in academia, we are often not sure how the rest of the system affects the big picture, potentially washing out the research project. I had a good feeling early that the problem we were solving was too big to wash out in this way, but it felt great to see the final product architecture come together,” said Dave Fick. “When we fully mapped out the system power and performance – then I knew we had crossed from research to product, which is even more incredible considering how ambitious the starting point was.”
Their collaborative work formed the foundation of Mythic’s groundbreaking analog compute-in-memory (CIM) approach, which combines analog technology and non-volatile memory (NVM) like flash to get a sum that is far greater than the individual parts. This unique analog compute approach enables processors to perform operations inside of NVM cells by manipulating and combining small electrical currents across the entire memory bank to perform real-time AI processing at a fraction of the power of a digital processing system. The team knew they had a major breakthrough on their hands, they just needed to figure out what to do next.
“While there was a lot of interest in the academic community for this project, we ran into a significant lack of industry interest. This was due to a strong feeling that digital technology would always win out due to process scaling. It was clear to us at the time that the problems we were solving were not going to be overcome through Moore’s law, increased die sizes, or increased clock frequencies, but required a different approach to computing,” said Laura Fick.
The team worked on research grants for the next few years as they continued to refine their analog compute approach and evaluate different ways to bring it to market. By this time, the team also included Skylar Skrzyniarz, who made significant contributions and led the analog modeling efforts.
For a while, the team looked at targeting the GPS market, but didn’t see much opportunity there since low-cost GPS chips were commoditized and the industry was already dominated by a few big players. The area that showed the most potential was AI, a green field opportunity with no established players. The team knew that hardware was holding the potential of AI back, and that the industry needed to see a massive improvement in AI hardware to realize the intelligent future.
The team started exploring AI solutions for wearable devices, but soon began to think much bigger. By delivering significantly more performance than other solutions with a fraction of the power consumption, the team became convinced that Mythic’s technology had endless possibilities and could target various applications ranging from smart cities to industrial, and enterprise to consumer.
In 2015, the team brought on their first industry-experienced chip engineer, Malav Parikh, to join the nascent company. “Reconnecting with Dave in 2014 after many years was a pretty big coincidence but looking back now, having been a part of this journey during the past seven years has been incredibly rewarding. I was looking to join a startup after several years of working at well-established companies and when I met Mike and Dave to learn more about the underlying technology, it was clear that the vision and the belief was there even if the path was not fully forged yet,” said Malav.
The team was determined to grow Mythic – then called Isocline, a name that Mike came up with after flipping through a math book glossary – into something serious. The timing worked out perfectly as AI software advancements were steadily gaining attention, and VCs were finally turning their eyes (and pocketbooks) to hardware companies, especially ones that were developing unique technology. Mythic raised both a seed round and Series A in 2016, allowing the company to ramp up hiring to build up the engineering team. Since then, Mythic has raised a total of $165.2 million and now has a portfolio of best-in-class analog matrix processors (AMPs).
“The nature of the company’s beginning in Michigan’s Integrated Circuits Lab and the company’s challenging technology means we have never lacked for opportunities to solve fun problems. I believe this remains true today as we complete our transition from being not only an inventive company, but being an inventive company that executes and productizes those novel ideas,” said Skylar Skrzyniarz.
It hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s been an incredible ride.
“It’s incredible to take a step back and marvel at the progress we’ve made since then, including raising $165 million in funding, working with tier-1 customers and expanding our team across the globe,” said Mike.
We’re continuing to work hard to massively scale up the production of our solutions, and continue to invest in our technology roadmap. We are also focusing on expanding our customer base across verticals, and growing our team across the globe. You can stay up-to-date on our journey by following Mythic at Twitter and LinkedIn. Stay tuned for more exciting news in the coming months!
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