MEMS Commercialization Report Card Gets Another B-minus Grade
by Roger H. Grace
Fierce Electronics, Jul 25, 2021
The results of the annual MEMS Industry Commercialization Report Card (Report Card) market study are in and the overall grade is B-minus. Results of the previous year’s Report Card were reported in Fierce Electronics, part one and part two. [ 1, 2 ]
The Report Card, created in 1998, has at its raison d’etre the assessing, monitoring, and reporting on the status of the MEMS industry in its desire for the successful commercialization of this important and ever-growing technology. It has been conveniently accomplished by requesting study participants to assign letter grades to the 14 critical success factors that my research established were the key to the successful commercialization of many emerging technologies.
Although the grade of B-minus has remained constant for several recent years (Figure 1), a more interesting factor has been the yearly changes in the grades for the individual subjects. Since the year 2020 was unique as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was especially interesting to see how it affected the grades vis-à-vis the resulting major upheaval in societal and economic issues.
These include office closings, work from home, decreases in sale revenues and significant reduction in business travel and in-person trade show/conference participation with many of these events being cancelled to going virtual. These negative effects were contrasted by the investments by the venture capital community in supporting the funding of biotech startups engaged in supporting Covid-19 research and other startups or continued funding of startups in later stage infusions resulting from the record-breaking levels of stock prices and enhanced valuations of organizations on the various stock exchanges worldwide.
Figure 1: The 2020 MEMS Industry Commercialization Report Card (Report Card) overall grade remained at B- . First introduced in 1998, the Report Card annually assesses the progress of 14 critical success factors for MEMS commercialization. Credit: Roger Grace Associates
Why the report card?
People love to give grades to activities…it is traditional, convenient, and objective in nature…and so it is with the “grading” of the status of the commercialization success of the MEMS industry. The early intent of the author was to demonstrate to the MEMS community that barriers to commercialization issues existed in the creation of a successful MEMS business and to help guide participants with valuable inputs as to how to better succeed based on past performance. It is noteworthy that MEMS were essentially discovered in the mid-1950s and so with semiconductors…both at Bell Labs.
However, the semiconductor business has been reported by Gartner Inc. to have 2020 sales greater than $466 billion, whereas the MEMS industry’s 2020 sales were at approximately $14 billion as reported by IC Insights. This constitutes a greater than 30X ratio. The question is…why? Looking to the semiconductor industry and its successful commercialization certainly is a “lessons learned” opportunity and the Report Card critical success factors are the vehicles by which this can best be accomplished and “calls to actions” to provide feedback can be executed to address subjects that appear problematic.
The research study for the year 2020 was conducted as it has been done in the past, employing the “Delphi Method” approach where a small number of highly experienced individuals in the subject topic are interviewed. This approach is opposed to others such as election exit polling where a large number of individuals participate and the answers result in outcomes with an accuracy of a specific percent based on the size of the sample space. For this study, 42 individuals responded to the email questionnaire request out of a total of 60 invitees resulting in an approximately 66 response rate which is exceptionally high and virtually unheard of in the market research community. They had an average experience in the MEMS industry of over 25 years and were international in location and represented the spectrum on the MEMS industry ecosystem including device manufacturers, material suppliers, equipment suppliers, and infrastructure suppliers -- e.g. design and analysis software and foundries. In addition to providing letter grades, individuals were requested to provide verbatims for the grades’ rationale which were quite revealing and interesting.
As stated earlier, the overall grade remained at B-minus with these individual grade changes:
- There were two grade increases: Venture Capital Attraction (C-minus to C) and Profitability (C to C-plus).
- There were three grade decreases: R&D (B-plus to B), Infrastructure (A-minus to B-plus), and Market Research (B-minus to C-plus).
Figure 2: While the overall grade of the 2020 MEMS Industry Commercialization Report Card (Report Card) grade remained at B-, there were several changes in the individual grades of the 14 subjects including venture capital attraction, profitability, infrastructure, R&D and marketing research. Credit: Roger Grace Associates
Marketing: In reviewing the grades, I was pleasantly surprised to see that marketing maintained its B-minus level. Based on the existence and far-reaching effects of the Covid pandemic for the greater part of 2020, many trade shows/technical conferences were canceled and/or went virtual, in-person sales meetings were dramatically reduced and many offices and manufacturing facilities closed or partially shut down. One would have surmised that this would have had a major negative impact on the grade.
However, since I believe MEMS marketers and sales and business development people are smart and quite resilient lot, it did not. I believe that like myself, they turned to other forms of marketing…much being social media-driven including virtual meetings/webinars, direct mail e.g. Constant Contact as I stated in a previous editorial on marketing in a recession.  It will be interesting to see what the “new normal” in marketing will be as we emerge from the pandemic and especially the trade show/technical conference areas.
R&D: I was not surprised to see the grade fall since, as a result of Covid, many companies shut down their lab facilities. Additionally, the loss of sales typically results in a reduction of spending, and R&D and marketing including market research, are the first to be slashed to maintain profitability.
Profitability: Although many of the respondents that I interviewed as a follow-up to the email questionnaire (this is integral to the Delphi Method) stated that their sales decreased in 2021, it appears that management was quick to cut expenses, including payroll, that more than made up for the loss of sales and thus enhancing profitability. It will be interesting to see if the new “lean and mean” approach will continue into the future.
Infrastructure: I believe that the lack of new business opportunities of device manufacturers curtailed spending on brick and mortar as well as in capital equipment prompted the reduction in grade.
The final grade for the 2020 Report Card remained at B-minus. Changes within the 14 subjects had three subjects decreasing one grade (R&D, Infrastructure and Market Research), two subjects increasing one grade (VC Attraction and Profitability).
A detailed presentation of the Report Card’s findings is scheduled to be presented at the August 22-25 MANCEF China COMET (virtual) Conference (www.mancef.org). Additionally, the expanded final report will be provided on the Roger Grace Associates website (www.rgrace.com) following its presentation on August 25.
The author wishes to thank all the individuals who participated in this research study for their kind, valuable, and continued contribution to the MEMS commercialization community.