Understanding imec: The Global Center for Cooperative Research in Semiconductors

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This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on March 19, 2024. Watch the full video here.

Charles Wessner: Good afternoon and welcome to CSIS. My name is Dr. Charles Wessner. I’m a senior advisor here at the Renewing American Innovation Program. The project, which is led by my colleague, Dr. Sujai Shivakumar, is exploring policies to renew the U.S. innovation system and revitalize it. Included in that is the nation’s semiconductor industry. And that also includes opportunities for cooperation with like-minded states and outstanding centers of research around the world.

Today with me is the leader of one of those outstanding centers, which is Dr. Luc Van den hove, who is president and CEO of imec. It is the leading cooperative research center in Europe, and arguably in the world. It’s based in Leuven in Belgium. Dr. Van den hove’s career at imec spans four decades. A remarkable span, actually, given the rapidity in which many organizations in the U.S. lose their leadership. He has been president and CEO since 2009. In 2023, he was honored with the outstanding semiconductor award in the world, the Robert N. Noyce Medal, for his leadership in creating a worldwide research ecosystem in nanoelectronics technologies, with applications ranging from high performance computing to health. He is an author of more than 200 publications and conference contributions.

Luc, I’m very happy to be with you here today. 

Luc Van den hove: It’s my pleasure.

Dr. Wessner: And I think the great opportunity here is to answer some very basic questions. You’re the leading global center for semiconductor research. It’s called imec. What is imec? (Laughter.) And our basic questions are: What is imec? How does it work? What does it do? What does it need to succeed? And, perhaps later in the discussion we’ll ask you, what do you worry about? (Laughter.)

Dr. Van den hove: Well, imec, as you said, I mean, we are a research center. And a kind of research center focusing on semiconductor technology, but also the applications enabled by semiconductor chip technology. We started, as you said, 40 years ago. And we kind of spun off from our local university in Leuven, which is one of the top universities in Europe. And we created imec as an independent research center. And so we grew from – we started with a team of 70 people. And year after year, we grew to now an organization with more than 5,500 researchers.

I think, as you mentioned, we can fairly state it, we probably grew to become the world’s largest independent R&D organization on semiconductor technology. And we’ve been able to do that by kind of building on three main assets. One is, make sure that you have the right infrastructure to kind of do this advanced research. And over those 40 years, we probably built out what is – what is – what we can say is the world’s most advanced, independent R&D pilot line. We’ve invested more than $5 billion in that facility. And it’s really run as one integrated facility, with a very strong focus on operational excellence so that we can deliver value in a very effective way to our partners.

And the second key asset that we built up is the people, the staff. I mean, we’ve been attracting people from all over the world, close to 100 nationalities, and 5,500 of the most advanced, top-notch researchers. Many of them have experience of more than twenty years either in imec or in the industry. And I think the third key asset is the ecosystem that we bring together around imec and around our activities. An ecosystem where we work with kind of top-notch universities, hundreds of universities, but also industry. And industry means all of the major semiconductor companies or companies active in the semiconductor value chain, but also a lot of startups that we enable. And we can talk more about that later on, if you want. 

Dr. Wessner: So you have the facilities and you have the researchers. (Coughs.) Excuse me. And you have the membership. Why do they come?

Dr. Van den hove: Well, I think we all realize that the challenges to extend the roadmap are becoming kind of unprecedented. I mean, we’re, in many cases, kind of fighting physics. If you think about advanced lithography, for example, it’s mindboggling what kind of R&D activities are needed in order to introduce those technologies. At the same time, there is an enormous consolidation in the industry. Only kind of the biggest companies can stay in the race, especially for the advanced technologies. So the risk – 

Dr. Wessner: Well, why is that? 

Dr. Van den hove: Well, it’s because the level of investment is so large, level of required investment. But as a consequence of having very few players, I mean, the risk of R&D is becoming phenomenal. So if one company makes one mistake, it may have phenomenal consequences. So the role imec plays in the value we bring is, on the one hand, we kind of align the entire ecosystem towards this common roadmap that we pioneered, with many of those – through many of those partnerships. And we make sure that the entire industry is synchronized around that roadmap – the supplier community, the materials suppliers, equipment suppliers, the chip manufacturers, but also the end users. That they’re all aligned around such a roadmap.

So we basically create, enable this ecosystem innovation model. But by doing that, we also kind of reduced the cost of the R&D by partnership, being in consortia, because, like, if you look at the amount of R&D that is required to introduce some of these new technologies – think about EUV, for example. No single company can drive all of that. 

Dr. Wessner: What is EUV? 

Dr. Van den hove: EUV is extreme ultraviolet lithography. So in order to reduce the feature size to be printed on those chips, we need to reduce the wavelength of the light that is being used to do these lithography exposures to define the small features. And with EUV we go to very short wavelengths, 13.5 nanometer, which is being absorbed in air. So the entire process needs to be done in vacuum. That requires some of the most expensive machines, order of magnitude of half a billion dollars for one machine.

Dr. Wessner: These are the ASML machines? 

Dr. Van den hove: These are the ASML machines. We have a very close partnership with ASML. In fact, imec was started the same year as ASML, in 1984. We were both created – we were started at the same moment. And we built up a very strategic partnership with them. And we kind of installed first of a kind tool for every generation, and imec developed the process. So ASML focuses on the machine. We develop the process. We develop the ecosystem around the machine. This is one of the key enablers to drive the roadmap. So that’s one of the very important portions of our research offering. 

Dr. Wessner: Well, you have the center. And you have the ASML for the equipment. But something that many people thought was curious is that Belgium – or perhaps, more accurately, Flanders has invested heavily in this facility. But there is no indigenous semiconductor manufacturer, is that correct? 

Dr. Van den hove: This is indeed correct. And probably it is – although it may look as if it is a contradiction – but it is probably the most important reason for our success. I mean, when we start – when we started imec, of course, it was the time the early ’80s – 1980s. It was the time of – microelectronics, we called it at that time, was kind of enabling a lot of the high tech. And so that’s why imec was created, in order to create – bring some of that high tech to Europe at that moment. But indeed, as you say, there is no big semiconductor company in Belgium. And that has allowed us to grow in the R&D space, because it has allowed us to really become a truly neutral player.

We are, we are based in Belgium, we’re based in Europe, but we work with the entire world. We work with as a global R&D provider. And so we kind of turned our weakness into our strength, because we don’t have a big company kind of looking over our shoulders and dominating our strategy. We’re truly perceived as neutral. That’s why I often say that, I mean, imec is like the Switzerland of semiconductors. We work – we can work with top companies in the U.S., in Europe, in Taiwan, in Korea, so – Japan. So we are truly perceived as neutral. And that’s one of the main reasons, I believe, why we have been able to grow to the – to the level where we are. 

Dr. Wessner: So you attract these companies from all over the world. And given the daunting costs of each successive generation of chips, do they contribute a lot to the budget? And how’s the finances of this work?

Dr. Van den hove: Yeah, sure. I very often say I don’t know any other research organization that has such a strong industry commitment. More than 75 percent of our budget – and our budget – we run with an annual budget these days of around – above $1 billion. More than 75 percent comes directly from industry. This is a huge commitment. Many of those companies – I mean, we work with, like, all the major semiconductor companies. Companies like Intel, TSMC, Samsung, Micron, all of the memory companies. We’re the only place where all of these companies come together for some of their advanced research.

Their commitment is huge. We work with most of them since more than 20 years. They have huge teams based at imec. We work with all the material companies. We work with all the equipment suppliers. We work also a lot with the fabless companies, companies like Qualcomm, AMD, Nvidia, all the hyperscalers, Apple. So we bring together the ecosystem. Virtually everybody active in the semiconductor ecosystem works with us. That contributes to 75 percent of our budget.

We do get good government support from our local government, the Belgian government, the Flemish government, also some support from the European Commission. And those allow us to basically invest in the long term. 

Dr. Wessner: That’s interesting, because there are many in this country that – in fact, some of the legislation with the Manufacturing USA program from the Department of Commerce and also potentially the NSTC, people have talked about a five-year lead time. And then after that lead time, they would expect it to be self-sustaining. Why hasn’t – why isn’t imec self-sustaining? Do you –

Dr. Van den hove: Well, we believe that we’ve been able to realize a phenomenal growth over those 40 years. And this has been realized through a growing commitment from industry. But at the same time, this commitment from industry was leveraged on top of very strong and stable support from the local government. And this, we believe, is important because it allows us to invest in new programs which today are probably too early for industry to finance but allow us to make sure that we can develop a long-term strategy. I mean, this is our role is to kind of set the roadmap for the next 10-20 years. So we have to pre-invest a lot in some of these –

Dr. Wessner: Well, I think a very good expression, you have to “pre-invest” in getting that longer – that longer term view. I think when we talk about it here, it sometimes seems to really have a short term. Our universities are long term, even the companies are long term investors in pharmaceuticals, in aircraft. But I hope your model will help us understand how this needs to be done. And the commitment is amazing. It’s been 40 years – not five years, but 40 years of steady commitment, steadily building it out. That certainly is a source of strength. And that 25 percent has been – well, 25 percent of a constantly growing –

Dr. Van den hove: Yes. So it has been a strongly growing commitment, in fact, for the local government.

Dr. Wessner: And it’s also interesting that it is the Flanders government. This is not a great, big European Union exercise. It was built locally, basically at the state level in Belgium. And it’s been a resounding success. When we first studied at the National Academy of Sciences this program, in the 2000s, we were totally impressed by the draw you have of all these companies from all over the world making their independent decisions. But a couple questions, one on terms of membership. You draw from all over the world. Do you – do you draw from China as well?

Dr. Van den hove: Well, the world has changed. Five, 10 years ago? Yes. But the situation has dramatically changed. The rising geopolitical tensions. Our priority partners are – mean, we work – we have the strongest focus on leading-edge technology. And it’s clear that our key partners are U.S., Taiwan, Korea, Japan. And so, given the evolution in the geopolitical tensions, it becomes impossible to work with everybody. So, yeah, we have drastically reduced and changed our strategy completely to be fully compatible with U.S. export restrictions, on a voluntary basis, because in Europe it’s a little more – the rules are a little more tolerant. But we, on a voluntary basis, completely adhere to the U.S. export control rules. 

Dr. Wessner: Well, I think that’s a great relief to hear, because it’s an outstanding source of cooperative research. But you do have to have the cooperation with the same rules of the game.

Dr. Van den hove: We fully understand. And that’s why – I mean, in this time, you have to – you have to take choices. And the world has changed dramatically.

Dr. Wessner: Well, one of the – well, there are several challenges. Let’s take them in order. One is, you have these large companies, the leading companies around the world. You know, Intel, and Google, and Taiwan Semiconductor are not small, to say the least. How do you work with small companies, or do you?

Dr. Van den hove: Yeah. Well, we have a wide variety of business models. It’s not like one size fits all at imec. As I said, we work with some of the biggest companies. Very often the focus in those programs is on what I would call the precompetitive research. I gave the example of lithography earlier. I mean, the amount of resources required to bring the lithography technology on the roadmap is phenomenal. No single company can do that. But everybody needs it – or, at least, several companies need it. Also, the rest of the ecosystem needs to be aligned. You have to develop those photoresist in time to be able to insert the – to be able to time – to be able to synchronize it with insertion points in large-volume manufacturing. So everybody has a common interest.

So those are activities that we address in in a precompetitive program, in a kind of consortium-like model. But when we talk – when we work with a with a startup company, then we will go in a more exclusive relationship. We will leverage many of the platforms that we develop to enable technology demonstration. But the specific demonstration for that startup will be exclusive for such a startup, because we have to – in each of those partnerships, we have to realize a win-win relationship. So we have a wide variety of models. For startups, one of the biggest hurdles very often is to get access to these high-end technologies.

When they go to a foundry, I mean, their volumes are very often – are very small. The risk of the project is very high. So we also have established a very effective model where we kind of combine a lot of the requests from startups. When they need processing and it’s foundry-compatible processing, we will outsource to a foundry that we bring together a lot of these requests. Since we have perfect relationships with all of these big foundries, we can get access to that. And then we kind of provide that as a service to the startups.

We can also come – when a startup comes to us and they require technology that is not yet completely available in foundry, then we will very often use base wafers for some foundry, but we add capabilities from our own pilot line on top of that to create differentiating technology solutions for some of those startups. So a very important role that we try to fulfill is to lower the barriers for access for startups to these high-end technologies. 

Dr. Wessner: Are there programs to help the startups pay the costs that they incur in working with you? How –

Dr. Van den hove: Yeah, also there we have set up new innovative models to help financing that. For that we have created our own fund, that is managed at arm’s length, because very often when the startup comes it’s hard to pay for these rather expensive services. But then our imec Expand Fund, we call it, can kind of coinvest in the startup, and gets equity in return for – 

Dr. Wessner: So you have your own investment – your own investment fund, which you put in promising startups.

Dr. Van den hove: Yes, yes, yes. And they can help finance the access to the technology.

Dr. Wessner: Have there been significant spin out from this process?

Dr. Van den hove: Sure. Sure. We have, in fact, two very important models that we – through which we enable startups. One is an incubator. We’ve incubated about 300 startups in that. And then we have the startups that built on imec technology and are created from there. These are spin offs. We have more than 100 spin off companies.

Dr. Wessner: Oh, that’s very substantial.

Dr. Van den hove: Yes.

Dr. Wessner: Are they often acquired by the member companies?

Dr. Van den hove: In some cases, yes. In fact, some of our member companies even cofinanced in our – in our fund – or, are one of the investors of the fund. Yeah.

Dr. Wessner: So you’re generating kind of a – kind of a spawning ground, in a sense, for new companies and new opportunities.

Dr. Van den hove: Absolutely, yeah. No, I mean, we also try to be – I mean, innovation is very important. Innovation is very important in the R&D programs we run. But we also have to innovate on the business models and on enabling the community to benefit from all of this.

Dr. Wessner: That’s a very good point. And it’s one that is worth stressing, because it’s one thing to do the research. The second phase is how do you actively and effectively commercialize that, to get it to a point where it can be acquired or incorporated.

Dr. Van den hove: Sure. Sure. No, but we have to reinvent imec continuously. We started with a very strong focus on the core technology, but these days it’s also very important to reach out to new – to focus on new applications, bring also the ecosystem on the application side closer to the semiconductor ecosystem. Think about automotive. You’ve seen kind of all the challenges that were triggered by the COVID pandemic for the automotive sector. It is because – to a large extent, because the automotive industry was too far – too remote from semiconductors, not only in terms of supply chains but also in terms of the innovation processes. We have to connect these value chains more much more effectively. And the same is going to be true for the healthcare sector. That’s why we’re also putting a lot of focus on those application domains.

Dr. Wessner: I think that’s a very important point, that this is a path to healthcare innovation. And if we can leverage the rate at which semiconductors evolve and, of course, related, artificial intelligence, we can transform that sector as well.

You know, you’ve been a success where you are, and you’ve – got the proof of that, I think, is perhaps best in your membership. They’re not there to waste their time. What do you think of the efforts both in Europe and the U.S.? You have the EU Chips Act. Will that be a benefit to you? Will that provide capital infusion? Or is it simply the policy attention? Or how does that play for you? And then a related question will be the U.S. CHIPS Act. But for Europe, what is the environment like?

Dr. Van den hove: OK. Well, first, Europe. Well, of course, the enormous attention that goes into the importance of chips. It’s not like a commodity. It’s really very strategic. I think that certainly helps. And it’s clear that imec will be recognized as one of the centerpieces in the – in the European Chips Act. We will play a central role there and get a significant contribution also from Europe in terms of expanding our infrastructure. So that I think is in the final works. I believe these chips acts, and also the U.S. CHIPS Act, creates a phenomenal opportunity. I think that the amount of resources, the amount of funding that becomes available, is a fantastic opportunity to accelerate the innovation in this domain. But it is so important that we do it right. As I said, the challenge-

Dr. Wessner: What does right mean in this context?

Dr. Van den hove: Yeah. I’ll try to explain. The challenges in our industry are phenomenal. I talked about consolidation. There are these geopolitical tensions that are accelerating this technology race. So it is extremely important that we accelerate the innovation capability. And so the chips acts are the right opportunity to do that. But if we’re going to implement them in such a way that everybody is going to try to do everything and keep everything locally under control, I believe it’s going to be a setback rather than an acceleration. Because it will result in duplication of activities. It will result in increase of costs. It will result in the slowdown of innovation, which is the opposite of what the chips acts are striving for.

So what we have to do, I think, the chips acts should be set up such that they strengthen the strengths in each region, and that they facilitate the interaction and the collaboration among those various strengths, that we rely on each other’s mutual strength. And I believe that the U.S. CHIPS Act can also facilitate this process. Same with European Chips Act.

Dr. Wessner: How can it facilitate?

Dr. Van den hove: Well, I think we should combine the strengths. And that’s also why we are reaching out to the U.S. ecosystem. I mean, combine some of the strengths that are in the U.S., and combine that with our strengths. I think our strengths, as we discussed, we’ve proven our track record, we’ve earned the trust of the industry. And that we want to combine with some of the strengths in the U.S.

I mean, you have some of the top academic – you know, top universities. You also have strong infrastructure. We would like to leverage those infrastructures and make sure that we connect what we’re doing with the capabilities in the U.S. so that we create kind of a synergistic collaboration model, so that we can serve our common partners. Because we’re talking about the same industry, because our industry is global. So we need to serve them. But if we do that in the right way, I think we can even do a much better job to be more effective. 

Dr. Wessner: Are you working now with some of these U.S. senators? Do you have – or do you have plans? 

Dr. Van den hove: Yeah, we’ve been building up this. We have an important presence in in the U.S. also. We are – we happen to be headquartered in Europe, in Belgium. And I explained why that has – why that has led to this neutral position, and why we’ve become what we are. But we are also expanding our presence in the U.S. And certainly in the context of the U.S. CHIPS Act, I believe expanding our presence in the U.S. is important because we have to also contribute to skill development in the U.S. and innovate on U.S. soil, is going to be very important.

That’s why we’re also setting up partnerships with some of the strongest universities in the U.S. For example, with Purdue, with Michigan. We’re talking to New York. We’re talking to MIT, several others. And building up then an alliance also with some of the places where there is top infrastructure in the U.S., like in New York. Because I think if the chips acts – CHIPS Act want to be successful, U.S. CHIPS Act wants to be successful, I mentioned that there is this enormous urgency. So the worst thing that could happen is to start from scratch. And, basically, start all over again. 

Dr. Wessner: Well, you could see – I think there’s some – an illustration we may be able to put up showing some of your cooperation?

Dr. Van den hove: Yeah. Yeah, these are some of the – initially the kind of collaborations that we’ve been setting up over the last years. We have a major team in California working on this, enabling this – design enablement and the low-barrier access for startups to this technology. In Florida, we’re working on specialty electronics on ultra-low – on superconducting materials. In Indiana we’ve set up a center focusing on kind of new materials, 2-D materials. Michigan focusing on automotive. But these are just a few examples. We’re –

Dr. Wessner: I don’t see anything up in New York. Aren’t you –

Dr. Van den hove: Well, we are – we are having active discussions with New York, because I believe it’s one of the important infrastructure –

Dr. Wessner: By “New York,” you mean the nanocluster in Albany?

Dr. Van den hove: The nanocluster in Albany, of course, because it’s one of the important infrastructures that is available in the U.S. As I said, it would be very inefficient to start from scratch. We have to – the challenges are so big, we have to bring the best of the best together. And that has to be done in a very timely fashion because there’s no time to lose. So bring together the strongest strengths. And that’s the way how we can move forward in the most effective way. This is the only way how we can create real impact to the industry. You need to have critical mass. And the innovations have to be – have to come timely. It makes no sense to come up with a solution when the industry is already implementing the next node. So.

Dr. Wessner: So your argument is – or, your observation is that what we – and recommendation – is that what we need to do is to cooperate not compete.

Dr. Van den hove: Absolutely.

Dr. Wessner: And that cooperation is already – is already underway.

Dr. Van den hove: We’ve been preparing some of this in order to get ready when the CHIPS Act comes in, to actually really move that into this overall global plan. But this industry cannot afford a duplication of these infrastructure, a duplication or the efforts. We need to do this in the most effective way.

Dr. Wessner: Well, that’s an interesting point. With respect to the New York nanocluster, how would you describe the complementarities that you see there?

Dr. Van den hove: Well, I think that there is – there is a strong complementarity in terms of how we work with industry. But also, I think in terms of infrastructure. Of course, there is sort of overlap, which, of course, is mean, you can never have full complementarity. But I believe that by working together we can implement a lot of our way of working that we built up over 40 years also in New York, and make sure that – in many of these –this research agendas, you need to – the role of imec is typically narrow down the options. So we screen many options to implement a certain process step into the next generation of technology. We have to screen many options. And our role is to narrow down the options. And then typically our industry will take it up. But there are always more options you want to investigate than the capabilities you have. More tools from different vendors –

Dr. Wessner: So investigating together keeps you from the companies having to do this on a dispersed basis. That’s your value added? 

Dr. Van den hove: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And I can see very effective models where we explore some options in our facilities in Belgium, other options in in a facility in New York. If you do that in an uncoordinated way, then you do twice the same things. But if you do it in a coordinated way, you create a much broader funnel which you then – from which you can pick up the most interesting solutions.

Dr. Wessner: Is it right to say that imec is perhaps more upstream and New York farther downstream in the innovation process? 

Dr. Van den hove: I think this is one way – of course, there is a certain overlap. But the strongest part of imec is clearly what – we refer to very often to three, four, generations ahead of manufacturing, N+3, N+4. Whereas New York is probably more N+2, N+3, at this moment. But those are the things we need to further work out.

Dr. Wessner: Well, you know, you say there’s some overlap. But keep in mind, if there’s no overlap, there’s a gap.

Dr. Van den hove: Of course! Exactly, exactly. That is not an issue.

Dr. Wessner: What do you – what do you see as your major challenges going forward? You’ve got this outstanding organization. You’re expanding in the U.S. And I take it as a compliment that you’re coming to U.S. universities? Are you going anywhere else, to other universities around the world? 

Dr. Van den hove: Well, I think it’s very well known that also in Japan there is a lot of activity, very good universities. So we’re also partnering with them. I mean, this is a global industry. So we need to act globally. And so imec just happened to be based in Europe, but we are global.

What I see as the big challenges – or, better, what I see as – my worry is that if we don’t do these chips acts in an effective way, it may actually result in a setback. And so I mean, the first reaction when there is something that is of strategic importance, and certainly in a world where geopolitics become more important, the first reaction is, oh, we have to control everything ourselves. Now, this I think for this industry is not the most effective way. I think collaboration is still very important, is going to be the essence to make it successful. Of course, cooperation among like-minded partners. But I strongly believe that this is the absolute requirement to be effective. And so one thing that keeps me awake is that, I mean, there are many voices, many people involved in setting up these programs, and to align all these people to this – to this vision, I think is what keeps me awake. 

Dr. Wessner: Well, you know, we are here – Dr. Shivakumar and I here at CSIS, very much agree with that assessment. We just published a small article on the U.S. and EU Chips Acts. And one of the key themes was, you know, at the Trade and Technology Council, everyone talks about the importance of cooperation and avoiding duplication. That’s just great. But the reality of the cooperation, which we found very encouraging, is what you’re doing, what New York is doing, what Rapidus in Japan is doing, what they’re doing at Leti as well, and Fraunhofer. As we understand it, these cooperative research organizations, as their name implies, are cooperating with each other because they see these challenges.

If there’s a lag in the process, it may be, as you suggest, with the bureaucracy, which tends – wants to control everything and make sure that everything is going the way of their view. Our hope is that this cooperation grows organically by the people who, frankly, know what they’re doing. Would you concur with that approach? Is that – 

Dr. Van den hove: I fully – I fully agree. I mean, if you have an enormous challenge what is the best way to approach it? Either you take the best of the best and you try to work together and move forward as fast as possible, or everybody tries to do everything, bring it to the average and then you all move slower. So it –

Dr. Wessner: Well, you make another strong argument. Put simply is that there’s so much to do. You have this full array of potential. And behind that, which it’s important to remember, it’s not just a better TikTok. It’s a whole array of things we can do in health and safety and human welfare and agriculture and transport, whatever it is. But it’s all driven by this amazing industry. Do you – two sort of closing questions. One is, do you think we’re investing enough? Is the EU and U.S. CHIPS Acts sufficient to drive the industry at its full potential?

Dr. Van den hove: Yeah, when you ask that to research provider you always get the answer it’s probably not enough. (Laughter.) But and if you compare it to the overall needs of –the R&D needs of the semiconductor industry, I mean, when we talk about these 10 billions here and 10 millions there, it’s still a small amount compared to what is the overall needs. On the other hand, these are huge numbers. If we invest them in a clever way, in an efficient way, I’m convinced that we can create an enormous impact through those.

Dr. Wessner: Well, that’s very encouraging. You know, our Chinese friends, if I can use that term, are investing very substantial sums that actually dwarfs both the EU and the U.S. CHIPS Act by several orders of magnitude. But one of the underlying questions is how well are they investing it? And they don’t seem to be, but I’m asking you. They don’t seem to be investing that effectively in the cutting-edge level?

Dr. Van den hove: Well, I will not comment on their performance. But we have been doing this for 40 years. We have been building up a track record. I think that is important for the future also. I mean, we’ve been coming from a small organization, 70 people, 100 people, 200 people, 400 people. And we were – we were talking about small budget at these times. I think the track record is so important, especially in this industry. You have to build trust relationships with all those partners. I mean, we’re bringing together the fierce competitors in common programs, it’s not obvious. You have to build up these trust relationships.

And what is competitive for one part of the value chain – what is not competitive for one part of the value chain may be very competitive for another part of the value chain. These resists companies or material suppliers, they’re all fighting to get to their customers. So managing all of that requires a lot of track record, expertise, tactics, trust that you build up. And that’s where we have – 

Dr. Wessner: And efficiency, if I may – 

Dr. Van den hove: Efficiency. And that’s where we have, I think, a lead in this part of the world.

Dr. Wessner: Yes. Well, I think – I think you’re right. But one area where, at least in the U.S., there’s some challenge – and I think it’s also in Europe – is the talent pool. Do you have initiatives at imec for broadening the talent pool, and what do you recommend we do here in the U.S.?

Dr. Van den hove: I think this is also an area where we can strongly collaborate. And, of course, this is a very broad topic, and I don’t think we have the time to go in depth into all aspects of skill development, but we also have a pretty comprehensive program on that, focusing a little more on the research part. We work very closely with hundreds of universities. One of the models of imec in working with those universities is also to have joint Ph.D.s. We have 850 Ph.D.s working on semiconductor topics at imec in one location. This is probably the biggest concentration of Ph.D. students in the world on a specific topic.

So skill development is very important. And this is just one aspect. But we have – we work a lot with universities to develop new curricula. And so those are also areas where we would love to work, to compare notes, and share best practices. And it kind of spans the full spectrum. It goes from having programs geared towards young children. We have a very big program on that. But then also universities, high schools, universities and Ph.D. programs. We have a broad – 

Dr. Wessner: Is there an effort on gender?

Dr. Van den hove: Absolutely. No, absolutely. STEM and gender is very strong focus, especially towards youngsters is very important. Diversity and Equity and Inclusion is very high on the agenda at imec also.

Dr. Wessner: And just the last question, as I think about the talent. Are you – are you cooperating actively with India at all? 

Dr. Van den hove: Well, India is, of course, getting traction in this domain. So we have quite a bit of discussions going on at this moment. These partnerships take some time, but in all of this we have to be patient. But we are certainly willing to support those initiatives.

Dr. Wessner: Well, here at CSIS we’re great advocates of transatlantic cooperation, both because it’s worthwhile and because we’re friends and we share common values, but also because it’s the path forward. And I can only thank you for your amazing contributions in this area. Thank you very much, Luc.

Dr. Van den hove: Thank you so much. And thank you for having me.

Dr. Wessner: Thank you.