When the Walt Disney Company acquired Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4B in 2006, it brought Disney into a new era of content creation. Pixar’s reputation had grown prior to that off its 1995 debut movie Toy Story — the first-ever computer-animated feature film. Other successes followed: Monsters, Inc (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004). John Lasseter and his team (including one Steve Jobs) could do no wrong. That smart piece of boardroom maneuvering turned Disney into a major player in the CGI animation industry, even though it had produced movies using CGI animation like in The Little Mermaid (1989).
But with Pixar Animation something was different. What started off as a five-minute short called Tin Toy in 1988 (the precursor to Toy Story) would change the world of animation forever.
That’s what acquisitions can do, you see: they give the acquiring company a cadre of talented new staff, a different way of looking at things and top-notch expertise. That’s what happened at Disney, anyway.
If it can happen in the entertainment industry, it can happen in any sector:
Amazon buying Whole Foods gave Jeff Bezos’ company access to hundreds of physical stores and instant expertise into the competitive world of the food industry.
Apple acquisition of Shazam.
There are dozens of successful examples.
In the quantum computing (QC) industry, too, we have an instance of a bigger player purchasing a startup to gain the latter’s unique IP.
Rigetti Computing’s acquisition of QxBranch, a QC software startup, in 2019. On the deal, founder and CEO of Rigetti Computing, Chad Rigetti, said: “Our mission is to deliver the power of quantum computing to our customers and help them solve difficult and valuable problems. We believe we have the leading hardware platform, and QxBranch is the leader at the application layer. Together we can shorten the timeline to quantum advantage and open up new opportunities for our customers.”
Another example took place late last year when FormFactor — a leading provider of essential test and measurement technologies — acquired High Precision Devices (HPD), whose cryogenic instruments served the quantum computing and superconducting computing sectors.
Although not originally founded as a quantum computing company (it was established in 1993, long before quantum computers were around.), the HPD acquisition
nicely complements our existing line of cryogenic wafer probe systems, and cryogenic engineering probes, expanding FormFactor’s market reach with cryostats for die and package testing and lower-temperature wafer probe capabilities
Now that we know something about HPD, what about the all-important company that acquired it, FormFactor?
Founded in the same year as HPD got off and running, FormFactor started developing products for the semiconductor industry in Igor Khandros’ small lab in New York. Two years later, and the company had moved its operations to Livermore, California. From there, it went public in 2003 and since then has ‘grown with the industry, consistently applying practical innovation to help semiconductor manufacturers keep pace with Moore’s Law’. Today, FormFactor is one of the best providers globally of advanced SoC and memory probe cards to the semiconductor industry.
With product lines that offer first-rate solutions in probe systems, cascade probes, probe cards, and metrology tools, FormFactor can now count on HPD’s knowledge base to penetrate into other markets, namely in the sphere of quantum information science (QIS).
Important in achieving all this — no matter how good the products seem — are the people in charge.
FormFactor’s president and CEO is Mike Slessor. At the helm since late 2014, he was also president and CEO of MicroProbe from 2008 to 2012 until FormFactor’s acquisition of the company. Before MicroProbe, Slessor held management, product-marketing and applications-engineering positions in the semiconductor industry, primarily with KLA-Tencor. With a Ph.D. in aeronautics and physics from the California Institute of Technology and his B.A.Sc. in engineering physics from the University of British Columbia, Slessor combines a unique skill set in both the managerial and technical aspects of his industry.
With the acquisition of HPD, FormFactor has gained a great deal. Hopefully, the company can now become a major force in the quantum tech industry, supplying some of the big names in hardware with cryogenic instrumentation for their superconducting devices and quantum computers.