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Creating an Effective & Sustainable Semiconductor Innovation Engine

Gears and printed circuit board

The U.S. semiconductor industry is faced with a once-in-a-generation opportunity. With its landmark investments in advanced technology, the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act must catalyze a resurgence of leadership in this critical industry. As allocated through the legislation, the creation and management of the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) can accelerate research, development, and prototyping, uniting the best of what the United States has to offer, from our groundbreaking research universities to industry-leading corporations and innovative entrepreneurship.

While the NSTC will have ambitious, market-shaping technical missions, its long-term success will depend mainly on the strength of its governance. Guided by neutrality and a commitment to the public good, the NSTC must have a clear strategic vision for how the center can best drive the precompetitive technical solutions that this industry needs. Through this vision, the stewards of the NSTC’s mission will earn the trust and confidence not just of its direct partners, but of the entire ecosystem, leading to the kind of breakthrough successes and exponential growth envisioned through the movement that led to this legislation.

With a keen focus on the need for effective governance through neutrality, MITRE Engenuity convened leading organizations and entities from across the semiconductor ecosystem and throughout academia to form The Semiconductor Alliance. This collaborative effort has created a blueprint that reflects industry needs and makes the most of this opportunity to foster a new paradigm for innovation that will impact U.S. technological leadership for this and future generations.

How It Can Work

Through our work and research, drawing upon the collective experience of Semiconductor Alliance members, we believe the most critical attributes for an effective and sustainable NSTC must include:

  • Effective governance and neutral, non-profit leadership. For the NSTC to drive truly revolutionary advancements in semiconductor technology, it needs to be accountable for advancing the nation’s good. To do this, the NSTC must be led by a neutral, unbiased nonprofit that is governed by a neutral body representative of the ecosystem stakeholders, does not benefit from investment decisions, is committed to public service, and can earn the trust of partners from across public and private sectors.
  • Focus on revolutionary – not just evolutionary – technological advances. The NSTC should be a catalyst for innovation by focusing on next-generation technologies rather than diving into existing projects in the competitive space. To make this happen, the NSTC should orient its work around Breakthrough Challenges that align innovators from across the country and the value chain around common grand technical objectives that no one group can solve by itself.
  • Breakthrough Challenges defined by future market needs. The semiconductor industry and academia must consider the longer-term needs of crucial end customers, such as system companies, the defense industrial base, critical infrastructure companies, and future government needs when defining Breakthrough Challenges. This consideration will ensure the innovations the NSTC help prepare for market substantially advance U.S. economic strength and national security.
  • Strategic use of existing infrastructure. Prototyping and scaling innovations are critical to closing the gap between research, development, and commercialization. The NSTC can create more impact faster by coordinating and leveraging existing U.S. infrastructure, fab annexes, and strategically enhancing capability gaps at labs and R&D fabs. This internal, organic growth will reduce the time it takes to create impact, simultaneously facilitating a more efficient use of funds.
  • Long-term commitment from both industry and government. Both the public and private sectors need to value the NSTC as a critical national resource for the long term and invest in it accordingly. Given the rapidly evolving pace of technology and capital intensiveness of the semiconductor industry, the NSTC will always need some investment to supplement industry contributions and ensure it keeps pace with changing and emerging needs that may seem risky.

Utilizing this approach for the creation and stewardship of the NSTC will ensure that this once-in-a-generation technological engine creates exponential growth of a critical American industry. By housing innovation within a carefully coordinated network of individually successful hubs and spokes, the U.S. can generate a truly collective vision for the semiconductor ecosystem. Guided by neutrality and a focus on public good, this whole-of-nation effort has the capability to deliver next generation breakthrough technologies with an impact akin to GPS or modern communications that we enjoy today.

Uniting the nation through the NSTC and the similarly focused and closely integrated National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP) will catapult the U.S. ahead of competitors by traversing the “valley of death” to bridge the gap between R&D and commercialization on uniquely innovative designs. The creation of the NSTC, done correctly, is a unique opportunity to enable generational impact and ensure that American innovation leads to American growth and leadership for decades to come.