27_Mar Hershenson

Chip Away at Obstacles

Sure, it may be an ever-more-digital world, but analog chips still help make the world go ’round. During her graduate-student days at Stanford University, Mar Hershenson led a groundbreaking research project on a radical new way to automate the design of analog circuits–translating to productivity gains of 50 to 100 times. Barcelona Design is a promising startup that grew out of that research. It has attracted backing from some of Silicon Valley’s top venture capitalists, including the legendary Pierre Lamond, and from some of the area’s best-known executives, including Barcelona Design chairman Joe Costello, former president and CEO of Cadence Design Systems.


Mar Hershenson
Chief technology officer, Barcelona Design
Sunnyvale, California


What is the big idea?
When Mar Hershenson registered for a math class at Stanford she had no idea that would lead her to create what became the first true analog synthesis technology. Her final project was so brilliant that it quickly impressed academic and industry leaders who invested time and money to support its development. Analog design has historically been largely manual and is now a limiting factor in SOC time to market. By applying optimization techniques to the problem, Mar created an extremely powerful and highly efficient approach that speeds up the design of analog circuits by orders of magnitude.

What was your creative spark?
The creative spark was more serendipitous. The idea was born during a final project in a Math class at Stanford University, when students were asked to use optimization techniques to solve a problem familiar to them. Mar wrote a simple program for designing an ideal analog circuit. The project was so revolutionary and innovative that it was presented to industry leaders who rapidly encouraged Mar to apply the developed techniques to design real analog circuits.

Why is the idea so compelling?
It is so compelling because it solves the two big problems in the industry: 1) Analog design has been as much an art as science and it is still a manual process that includes several weeks or months of design time. The idea reduces design time from months or weeks to a few hours or minutes. 2) Analog designers are not only in very scarce supply but most take five to ten years of experience before developing an entire repertoire of expertise. The idea makes it possible for even less experienced analog or digital designers to design analog circuits.

How or why did the innovation spread?
The idea turned into a startup company–Barcelona Design–that is breaking new ground in the analog circuit synthesis area. The company’s technology is so revolutionary that has already received the markets acceptance by winning key customer accounts such as ST (one of the top 5 semiconductor firms in the world) and securing financing from leading Venture Capitalists such as Sequoia Capital.