Chipmaker Builds Kits Hoping to Spur Startups

Photographer: Guillaume Plisson/Bloomberg News

STMicroelectronics circuit at the company's factory in Grenoble. Close

STMicroelectronics circuit at the company's factory in Grenoble.

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Photographer: Guillaume Plisson/Bloomberg News

STMicroelectronics circuit at the company's factory in Grenoble.

Dreaming up the next iPhone rival is one thing. Building it with all the right parts in the right places is quite another.

Hardware can be a barrier when turning an idea into a working prototype. Just as an example, a smartphone's innards comprise dozens of electronic components that all have to fit together themselves, as well as in the phone. It's like playing Tetris in 3-D, but with miniature gyroscopes, compasses and sensors.

Chipmaker STMicroelectronics, Intel's largest rival in Europe, thinks it has a way to make the game a bit easier on startups that have enough on their plates just trying to get going. So it took over a Paris mansion for two days this week to show off some neat new inventions and its own so-called development kits -- ready-to-use sets of microelectronic components meant to help these sorts of inventors do their work without sweating over the really small stuff.

The kits are the Geneva-based company's version of startup funding. Besides pumping money into small companies, the chipmaker develops products just for them. STMicro is betting in part that these kits, which generate only a very small portion of its sales, will help spawn the next success story -- and make for some very loyal (and bigger) customers.

With the initiative, STMicro is planning for the future. The company in recent years took a hit when some of its largest clients, Finland's Nokia and Canada's BlackBerry, lost market share to Apple and Google. Carlo Bozotti, STMicro's chief executive officer, since then has attempted to get more chips into everything from cars to washing machines, along with trying to lure more contracts from manufacturers like Apple or Samsung Electronics with touch-less screens and other parts for phones and tablets.

The inventions showcased include a home weather station, an electronic fork to help with healthy eating and an illuminated Rubik's cube.

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