Customers, Collaborators Back Impinj With Funding

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

About $14 million came from Inventec Appliances Corp., LS Industrial Systems, Samsung Ventures America and YFY Group.

RFID chipmaker and solutions provider Impinj has announced the completion of its fifth funding round, totaling approximately $33 million. Nearly half of that amount was contributed by four companies—Inventec Appliances Corp. (IAC), LS Industrial Systems, Samsung Ventures America (SVA) and YFY Group—that comprise a representative sampling of Impinj's current customers and strategic partners. The Seattle-based firm has now raised a total of $110 million in private funding.

"As our business matures," says William Colleran, Impinj's CEO, "we are migrating to more strategic investments from players who are customers or collaborators and play a part in the ecosystem of our company," rather than investments solely from venture capitalists. "That's the undercurrent of this announcement: that we have broad, deep support from important players [in the RFID industry]. We think this will be an important part of our strategy, going forward."

Taiwan's IAC is a manufacturer of smart phones and other Web-enabled mobile devices. Korea's LS Industrial Systems, the industrial arm of electronics firm LG, has been an original equipment manufacturer of EPC Gen 2 readers based on Impinj's Speedway reader since 2006. In 2004, LS Industrial Systems designated RFID as one of its core business areas, building what Impinj calls the first and largest RFID tag and interrogator production infrastructure in Korea.

Samsung Ventures America is the U.S. operation of Samsung Venture Investment Corp. (SVIC), the venture capital arm of the Samsung Group, which has major investments in companies that produce semiconductors, displays, telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics. Samsung Group's other constituents include Samsung Electronics, a global provider of televisions, appliances, cell phones and other electronic equipment, and Samsung Heavy Industries, one of the world's largest shipbuilders. "Samsung [Group] is interested in RFID for its own internal consumption," Colleran says, "as well as for use in the products it offers, which makes it a perfect investor."

Investor YFY Group is Taiwan's largest papermaking conglomerate. The company recently launched an RFID subsidiary, Yeon Technologies, which is presently developing a means of embedding RFID inlays into its corrugate products (see RFID-Enabled Boxes Inch Closer to Production) to offer its customers packaging materials they won't need to tag themselves.

"Yeon Technologies is to Asia what Raflatac is to Europe," says Colleran. "They see where the future is, in terms of RFID labels and packaging." Yeon Technologies is a licensee of Impinj's tag antenna designs; the two companies also have a collaborative relationship, according to Colleran, working to achieve a faster inlay-creation process using Monza chips and Impinj-designed tag antennas, among other projects.

In December 2007, Colleran told RFID Journal that Impinj plans to focus on developing its reader antenna designs in 2008, optimizing them for specific RFID applications based on industry needs (see An Interview With Impinj CEO Bill Colleran). The company also plans to add new functionality to its Monza RFID chip product, Colleran says. The current round of funding will help fuel these product developments.

Ultimately, Impinj hopes all these developments will drive sales of the EPC Gen 2 chips it makes. The company, however, declines to reveal the quantity of the chips it sold in 2007 or expects to ship this year. While Impinj used to make public the number of Gen 2 Monza chips it ships to customers (tag makers), the chipmaker has become more guarded with such information. "In the early days [of EPC Gen 2 tag development], we were the only company shipping Gen 2 chips, so we shared that information as a metric for the industry," says Colleran. "But now we have competitors also shipping product, and we would be tipping our hat if we shared those numbers now."