Spotlight Series: Interview with Dr Giorgia Longobardi, CEO and Founder of Cambridge GaN Devices

01 Sep 2020

Giorgia Longobardi 2

Who are you? 

I am the founder and CEO of Cambridge GaN Devices (CGD). CGD is a fabless semiconductor company spun-out from Cambridge University in 2016 to exploit a revolutionary technology in power devices, a market in excess of $45 billion. Our mission is to shape the future of power electronics by delivering the most efficient and easy-to-use transistor. CGD technology delivers a desirable combination for consumer and automotive electronics: reduced charging time, lower energy losses and associated CO2 emissions, and lighter, less bulky systems.

What inspired you to create Cambridge GaN Devices?

It was the thought of being able to optimise the way we use energy. I was really motivated by the fact that I could bring to life a product that encapsulates the impact of my research and amplifies the results of many years of work. At the same time, the network of mentors and entrepreneurs I had around me, helped me to believe my dream was possible.

Sell it to us – how does it work?

More than 80% of the world’s electricity passes through a power electronics circuit. The power device is a key component of these circuits. It operates as a switch between off (no current flowing) and on-state (current flowing). However, there are substantial energy losses during this process with current technology. As a result, we have developed technology for power devices made with Gallium Nitride (GaN) that can cut on these energy losses and deliver the highest energy efficiency, as well as being smart and reliable in the long term. It is a single on-chip solution which makes our product the most efficient and easy-to-use power device.

So, what’s next in line for you?

There are a number of applications where the high-efficiency and smartness of our solution can add significant value. These span from power supplies for consumer electronics, data centres, on-board-chargers for electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles. All these applications operate at different power levels and have different challenges, which is why we are growing the team to meet customer demand and increase our capacity to deliver a range of devices. We believe that by collaborating with several partners in the supply chain as well as different end users, we can speed up and widen the impact of our technology in the power electronics world. For these reasons, we have formed and are leading the GaNext consortium formed of 13 industrial and academic partners. The €10.3 million project is supported by the PENTA Programme, an international initiative that provides funding to electronic components and systems (ECS) companies in partnership with national governments.

How will the GaNext consortium project shape the future of power electronics?

The partners in GaNext aim to deliver a technological breakthrough by developing the next generation of intelligent GaN based ‘power modules’ (electronic components in power  systems). These will significantly increase energy efficiency over existing modules most of which are based on silicon. As a result, the GaNext project will strongly support worldwide moves towards energy efficiency and electrification. Suited to a wide range of applications, especially  in  transport  and  industry,  the  new modules will provide ways to meet stringent energy efficiency regulations. They will also be crucial for electric vehicles and charging infrastructures,  which  countries  such  as  Norway  and  the  UK  are promoting through ambitious legislation.

What are you most proud of within this project?

This project gives CGD the opportunity to demonstrate to important players in the semiconductor industry that CGD has all it takes to become the number one provider of GaN integrated circuits. I am extremely proud of the effort that my team is putting towards delivering the milestones of this project, especially through Covid-19.

What’s been the most challenging thing about working at Cambridge GaN and how have you managed to overcome this?

CGD is growing very fast. By the time we have a system in place the company outgrows it. Our secret is to be extremely dynamic – we listen to the company’s needs and adapt fast. It can be very challenging at times but our hard work and achievements so far  give us the strength to face any challenges ahead.

What does the future hold?

In the immediate future we will double our size and get ready to enter the market. I am also sure the future holds many more challenges, but we are not afraid to put all our energies together to face them.

What’s your top piece of advice to budding entrepreneurs?

To be resilient. Believe in what you are doing and build a team that can help you deliver it.

What impact has the SME Leaders Programme had on your business? What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt?

The SME leaders programme has been instrumental for my growth as a leader and consequently the growth of the company. The network of mentors and like-minded entrepreneurs is priceless. Some of us face the same problems, so it’s great to see how many people are willing to share their experiences and network to help you. Being a leader is not easy - we often do not have someone to turn to in difficult times. The coaching sessions has provided me with a safe space to share some of the challenges and to get a different perspective.

What advice would you give to potential applicants to the Enterprise Hub?

I would suggest anyone that does not have experience of leading a startup to get involved. This programme has taught me more than any university course could have done and has increased my confidence. What I like the most is that it is based on the applicant’s needs. It is up to the Hub Member to decide what they need, when and how. The flexibility and continuous support are exactly what entrepreneurs need when learning how to build a company.

Quick fire questions

Who is your role model?

Sheryl Sandberg

What is your secret talent?

I am a rescue, wreck and deep diver. Does that count as a talent?

I can also make a very good pasta with potatoes, which for many people is absurd (double carbohydrate intake in one dish?) until they try it 😊

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I love food and good wine. I could live on cheese and chocolate for a month!

I don’t understand why… and I never will, pizza with pineapple (I am from Napoli, Italy). Also, why do I always get the seat in the opposite direction of the train in the Eurostar?

When I’m not working at Cambridge GaN Devices, I am…

Scuba diving, running, reading, travelling and eating cheese!

What makes you happiest in business?

The very dynamic environment and the amazing people I meet in so many different business departments, from technology, finance, business development, HR...

Do you have any business regrets?

Maybe small ones, who doesn’t? But any business regret is a lesson learnt so perhaps none.

If I could have a superpower, it would be…

Flying.

If you could switch places with any famous entrepreneur, who would it be?

Daniel Ek but for a couple of hours only to learn more about his journey and challenges.

The tech that I could not live without is…

I am afraid it is my mobile phone. It is what allows me to be in touch with my family and friends.

Which fellow Hub Member are you most impressed by?

Difficult question. There are so many I am impressed by…

And finally, if you could invent a new piece of tech, what would it be and what problem would it solve?

A tele-transportation machine. No more long-haul flights and what if with it we could reach any place in the universe?

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our mailing list and get updates!

Do you want to become a member, a mentor or just want to support us?

Find out more >