Curtis Ling on what makes a successful technology company

As the 2023 ECE Merit Alumni Award winner, Ling chronicled his experience co-founding the semiconductor startup MaxLinear and shared his insights for those interested in pursuing a similar path.
Dr. Curtis Ling (left) was presented with the 2023 ECE Merit Alumni Award by Prof. Anthony Grbic (right) at Ling’s award lecture on September 22, 2023.

In recognition of his distinguished career, Curtis Ling (MS PhD EE), the founder and current Chief Technology Officer of MaxLinear, received the 2023 ECE Merit Alumni Award. He presented his award lecture, “Fabless, From Startup to Beyond IPO” during Homecoming on September 22, 2023, on campus.

“There’s a singer called Tom Waits, and I’m going to borrow a little from him and say that I never saw Ann Arbor until I stayed away too long,” Ling said.

As a PhD student, Ling helped his advisor, Prof. Gabriel Rebeiz, build a lab and research group from scratch. While different from building a company, this experience cultivated Ling’s interest in entrepreneurship.

After Michigan, Ling joined the faculty of the newly established Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. As an early faculty member, he was given the freedom to develop his research and shape the new department.

In 1999, he returned to California to gain industry experience in product development. He served as a principal engineer at the startup, Silicon Wave, Inc., to help build the world’s first single-chip Bluetooth transceivers. Silicon Wave’s assets were ultimately acquired by Qualcomm, which successfully took the Bluetooth chips to volume production.

In 2003, he and seven other colleagues left to start their own company, which became MaxLinear, a fabless semiconductor startup developing communication systems on silicon. Today, the company continues to advance state of the art high-performance broadband integrated circuits. They have offices around the world – across North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

“It’s been said that, ‘You don’t climb your way to success, your team carries you there,'” Ling said, “and that’s certainly been true in my experience.”

It’s been said that, ‘You don’t climb your way to success, your team carries you there,’ and that’s certainly been true in my experience.

Dr. Curtis Ling, Founder and CTO of MaxLinear

When Ling’s team began marketing the company’s capabilities in its early days, Panasonic was the first to express interest in their idea of a low-power, single-chip television receiver. This precipitated MaxLinear’s transition from providing consulting services, to committing the team entirely to product development. Once they had a prototype, the team was able to attract venture funding in 2004. They became publicly listed in 2010. 

MaxLinear was among the first companies to build broadband communication chips with analog, RF and mixed-signal interfaces in generic digital CMOS processes, benefiting from high gate density and low cost. Their products are now found in cable modems and home gateways, cellular basestation towers, and datacenters.

During his lecture, Ling stressed that, from a technology perspective, MaxLinear is a tale of how the chip industry successfully integrated high performance communication systems in mass production CMOS processes in a period of 25 years. This effectively brought Moore’s Law into contact with antennas and photonics.

This transformation was happening concurrently with explosive growth in wireless and datacenter infrastructure markets. It was also during this period that the fabless semiconductor industry grew from relative obscurity to strategic importance — and ultimately the center of national attention.

Ling previously served as Chief Finance Officer for MaxLinear. He earned his BS in Electrical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

Alumni News; Honors and Awards