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Software startup seals $1 million from local venture capitalists

Stelar Tools, an eight-person operation, is one of a few area firms to win substantial seed money
Friday, May 21, 2004

Stelar Tools Inc., an eight-person startup developing software tools to speed the design of complex semiconductors, said it has secured $1 million in seed funding.

Portland is a hotbed of activity in the electronic design automation industry, and Stelar was able to attract all of its seed funding locally, from Capybara Ventures, SmartForest Ventures and Northwest Technology Ventures.

Local venture capitalists said recent economic improvements may be beginning to drive a pickup in startup activity nationwide, but Stelar is one of few local companies to receive substantial seed funding lately.

The company's technology addresses two of the semiconductor industry's biggest issues: the increasing complexity of large chip designs and the need to deliver them on schedule.

A design for a semiconductor that runs a cell phone or entertainment device can contain thousands of pages of text in a special-purpose hardware language that governs the functionality of up to 50 million electrical circuits. Given that complexity, many of the designs are re-engineered from existing chips, using new, enhanced or imported pieces of code to provide the desired features in a device, such as video.

Stelar's software tools give design teams graphical and textual views of chips to help navigate, document and correct designs before they go through a standard simulation process. Chief Executive Joe Tanous said the tools can help customers cut their design time by 30 percent.

Stelar is trying to exploit a niche that larger design software companies such as Wilsonville-based Mentor Graphics Corp. have overlooked or addressed incompletely, Tanous said.

"There isn't anybody out there with a tool that does all the things we do," he said.

The company was founded last year by Steve Sapiro, vice president of marketing, and Larry Carner, chief technology officer. It has hired a crew of industry veterans, including Tanous and Jack Winter, chief financial officer.

The company will debut its product at an industry conference in June and hopes to bring it to market by spring 2005.

-- Ted Sickinger

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