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Ten years of Micron research support this new semiconductor-chip startup in Boise

Six members of the Natural Intelligence Semiconductor team at Trailhead North. From left: Dan Skinnner, vice president of business development and strategy; Steve Narum, architecture and development engineer; Russel Lloyd, very-large-scale integration (VLSI) development engineer; Dave Robert, VLSI development engineer; Matt Tanner, vice president of customer engineering; and Paul Dlugosch, president and CEO. Three founding members are not shown: Jim Hall, vice president of engineering; Terry Leslie, vice president of external research and development; and Harold Noyes, architecture and development engineer.
Six members of the Natural Intelligence Semiconductor team at Trailhead North. From left: Dan Skinnner, vice president of business development and strategy; Steve Narum, architecture and development engineer; Russel Lloyd, very-large-scale integration (VLSI) development engineer; Dave Robert, VLSI development engineer; Matt Tanner, vice president of customer engineering; and Paul Dlugosch, president and CEO. Three founding members are not shown: Jim Hall, vice president of engineering; Terry Leslie, vice president of external research and development; and Harold Noyes, architecture and development engineer. Trailhead Boise

One of the newer startups at Trailhead is Natural Intelligence Semiconductor, a company founded by Paul Dlugosch to deliver to market a natural processing unit, or NPU, a semiconductor chip optimized to solve a variety of problems in artificial intelligence and machine learning. These include cybersecurity, genomic research, autonomous-vehicle control and large-scale data analytics.

The NPU is modeled on the methods used by the human brain to process information. It comprises thousands of small cells that can be connected together like neurons.

“We chose our name deliberately, because we believe our technology is more natural and powerful than others that are constrained by more traditional CPUs and techniques related to ‘artificial intelligence,’” Paul says.

Paul has been working on the technology for over 10 years as part of Micron’s Architecture Development Group. He and his team spun out of Micron when it became evident the technology did not align with Micron’s core business.

With 10 years of development and over 200 patents, significant intellectual property has been created.

“What we are doing is profoundly important to the future of computing,” Paul says. “As an example, our first-generation chip has the capacity to make over six trillion decisions every second and is solving genomic analysis problems in minutes that today take weeks.”

He adds: “We appreciate Micron’s support over the years and look forward to making this company successful for all those who invested in the early phases of this exciting technology.”

The team is driven by the opportunity to bring a truly revolutionary technology to market. Delivering something that can accelerate things like medical research is a real motivator. “We really want this technology to improve the lives of people everywhere,” Paul says.

The startup experience is new for most of the team.

“Our team oscillates between excitement and terror,” he says. “We’ve spent our careers at large tech companies, so the ups and downs of starting a company are new. Being at a place like Trailhead has been invaluable as we’ve met many entrepreneurs facing similar challenges. We all share a common dream of creating an outstanding company here in Idaho that can make a difference in the world.”

Raino Zoller, info@trailheadboise.org, is the executive director of Trailhead, which helps start and scale businesses and projects.

This column appears in the February 15-March 14, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on technology. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).

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