Hunting new customers, Arm offers startups its chip tech for free

Chip-developer Arm is hoping to snag a place at the heart of new tech startups by offering access to its chip technology for free, staving off costs until products are actually being produced. The Arm Flexible Access for Startups program offers the company's processor designs, tools, and technical support with no fees, assuming the startups fit some criteria.

It builds on the Arm Flexible Access program which the company launched in mid-2019. That was designed to make experimenting with Arm-based chips more cost-effective, with a single annual fee covering access to all of the Arm intellectual property. License fees only kick in when they reach production.

The startups version of that scheme is focused on early-stage businesses, which Arm defines as having up to $5m in funding. In return they get to avoid the Flexible Access annual fee, which normally starts at $75,000 per year. Over the course of the typical development cycle, Arm says, it could work out to a 52-percent cut in total costs, not to mention 6+ months shaved off the whole process.

Arm may not be a household name, but the chip-maker's tech is undoubtedly in many places in each home. The company is responsible for designing chipset architecture that is licensed and used by many big names, including Qualcomm, Apple, Samsung, and others.

While Arm's products are most commonly associated with the CPUs and GPUs used in smartphone and tablet chips, the company actually has a wide range of other products which will be covered under the umbrella of the Flexible Access for Startups program. That includes image signal processors for cameras, dedicated chipsets for security, and hardware for low-power Internet of Things devices.

Arm says that there have been more than 40 sign-ups to the original Flexible Access program, working in areas from the IoT, autonomous vehicles, medical wearables, and more. The goal for startups, it predicts, will be rapidly iterating an idea to prototype stage, thus potentially trimming down the time until a larger funding round.

Obviously, just having the chips is no guarantee of success for a startup. However the reality of the tech world right now is that custom or cutting-edge silicon is increasingly a must-have rather than being forced to use the sort of off-the-shelf components typically available to cash-strapped startup businesses. That's only more likely to hit home given the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, and the impact that will have on funding rounds for new firms.