When someone buys a smartwatch, it is very likely that a graphics card designed by the Greek start up Think Silicon is hidden inside.
But when George Sidiropoulos and Dr. Iakovos Stamoulis founded their company, they essentially created a new market from scratch.
Think Silicon specialises in designing high-performance, ultra-low-power graphics processing units for portable devices, such as smartwatches. And now it has been acquired by the American multinational Applied Materials, a world leader in the materials technology market.
George Sidiropoulos and Iakovos Stamoulis met in 2007 in Patras, when they both worked for Atmel, designing chips for Bluetooth and wi-fi devices.
As revealed on an Outliers podcast by Endeavor Greece, Iakovos had registered the name Think Silicon since 2000, believing that at some point he would build a company in the field of electronics.
Finally, Think Silicon was created in 2007 and in 2009 started to delve into graphics.
Today, Think Silicon designs graphics processors for devices with very low power consumption, such as a watch, a fitness band, a refrigerator, a washing machine or a thermostat.
However, when it first opened, the company decided to focus on a part of the market in which none of the albeit few "players" of the graphics market had a basis.
One of Think Silicon's first customers was a very large company and at the time produced what was probably the first smartwatch ever made. Sidiropoulos and Stamoulis realised then that if such large companies are looking at this sector, then there really is a market for them.
Today, George Sidiropoulos wears a watch that has their own Think Silicon graphics card. "It is very satisfying for engineers to go to the corner store to buy something they know they have designed themselves," he explains.
But things have not always been easy for Think Silicon.
It wasn’t until 2019, almost 13 years after it was first established, that the company managed to raise its first funding. As the two founders explain, when in 2007 they started looking for financing from venture capitals, the concept of ‘start ups’ did not even exist. Thus, the first capital of the company came from a severance pay. Think Silicon was developed organically but also with the help of research programmes through which it has "raised" 3 million euros.
For an entire decade the company did not make money. According to Sidiropoulos and Stamoulis, the company managed to survive due to its good management in the field of expenses, even if it cost it in terms of development, since keeping wages low, it was virtually unable to attract experienced engineers.
In 2018, Think Silicon reached a tipping point. The co-founders of the company fired half the engineers and cut the costs, ensuring the company a few more months of life. During this time, they managed to close clients and receive their first seed financing from the Greek fund Metavallon and two private investors. This was followed by the agreement for the acquisition of Think Silicon by by global leader in materials engineering solutions, Applied Materials.
Costas Mallios, who had been a Microsoft executive for a number of years, had just "moved" to Applied Materials and when the company started looking in this field, he first looked to Greece for a solution.
"What we did matched what Applied Materials was looking for," say Think Silicon co-founders.
Today, Think Silicon operates as a standalone unit within Applied Materials, where it designs and develops its own products, maintaining its own sales network.
Recently, in fact, a new office has been opened in Athens, which currently employs a small team of 10 engineers, but which they intend to grow to in excess of 30 people.