The volume of data generated around the world is growing exponentially. At the same time, the demand for real-time applications based on increasingly complex technologies that incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning is growing and pushing processors to their limits. There is not only a need for robust algorithms but also ones that work quickly and economically.
Xelera recognized the sign of the times and joined the big data wave at an early stage with its business model and product ideas. The company now offers various cross-sector and standardised software solutions for accelerating algorithms, which ensure that networks are better protected and passwords are more secure in data centers and cloud and edge computing environments. It also offers a turbo platform for smoothly integrating these applications with the customer's existing infrastructure.
Knocking on the door at HIGHEST
“When we talk about real time, we mean three to ten milliseconds for a processing step”, explains co-founder Andreas Duffner. “We have to think in these dimensions when we talk about real-time applications.” When the co-founder of his company Dr. Felix Winterstein moved from Imperial College to Darmstadt in early 2015, he already had the technological key to the Xelera products in his toolbox. Winterstein is an expert in the area of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) – accelerator cards that have been available for decades for the upgrading of computers but which were still considered a niche product at that point in time. The future CEO of Xelera was convinced that there was huge market potential for specially programmed FGPA chips and he sought advice in two different places. Winterstein consulted with Professor Andreas Koch from the Embedded Systems and Applications research group at TU Darmstadt – who is now a member of the Xelera Advisory Board. He also knocked on the door of the HIGHEST Startup and Innovation Center at TU Darmstadt.
Meticulous market analysis
The team at HIGHEST not only informed him about the funding that was available as part of the EXIST programme but also put him in contact with Duffner, who still supports start-ups in Darmstadt as a coach as part of the HIGHEST Network. Duffner was so excited by the idea that he joined the start-up project himself. Winterstein’s fellow students Dr. Andrea Suardi and Alexander Lange – who he met during his time at the European Space Agency (ESA) – completed the team. What fields of application will FPGA software be used for in the future? Robotics? Aerospace? What else? This question kept the four entrepreneurs busy for a long time. Their analysis ultimately showed that a growing market was emerging in data centers due to the rapid digital transformation.
The recipe for success: push and pull
With this idea in mind, Xelera Technologies GmbH was founded in April 2018 with funding from an EXIST grant. “We then tried out lots of ideas, working through an extensive list on a trial and error basis”, recalls Alexander Lange. However, the team always kept their eye on the target. “Every trial was based on detailed requirements and a specific proof of concept for which we were also paid by our partners”, emphasises Duffner. Many of the POCs that were investigated by the company in cooperation with major players from the top ranks of the international telecommunications sector took the start-up to where it is today. The company now has three software products and a middleware that have already been launched or are just about to be launched on the market. “Our strength is that we always remain really close to the customer”, explains Duffner. The business economist and consultant relies on the “push and pull” principle in this context, i.e., on the one hand, he develops innovations based on user demand and, on the other hand, also actively pushes the solutions on the market.
Investor from Silicon Valley
The entrepreneurs and their business idea and innovations ultimately impressed the company Xilinx – one of the largest players in the digital economy in Silicon Valley. The team are sure to remember the day the contract was signed for a long time. The deal was concluded at 11:30 on 23 March 2020. The offices in Silicon Valley closed half an hour later and the USA entered a period of lockdown. “It was a close call and our first experience of the coronavirus pandemic”, says Duffner. He admits that customer acquisition and personal networking activities have suffered significantly due to the pandemic. However, it was still possible for development work to continue uninterrupted. Xelera achieved a hugely important milestone in the middle of 2020: It won the tender issued by a large federal authority with its password auditing software Xelera Secra and installed an FPGA cluster of 40 cards at the authority that can handle 500 billion calculations per second. “This software has thus faced its acid test in a highly scaled-up environment”, says Lange.
Thinking in ecosystems
It was a herculean effort by the entire team but gave them momentum for the next customer acquisitions. The company – which now consists of 14 employees – has invested a lot in marketing and sales and plans to further expand its core products. The start-up will require new investment by the middle of 2022 for the scaling-up phase. Lange and Duffner are looking to the future with confidence and do not regret founding their own company. “You see that you can achieve something with your own hands and are not just a small cog in a big machine”, says Lange. Andreas Duffner believes that it is a “privilege” to be able to help shape his own company. When asked what is really important in the start-up scene in this digital age, the 63-year old consultant gives the following answer without any hesitation: “It is important to be able to think in ecosystems. Where am I active and what contribution can I make to which value added chains? Alongside the composition of the team and innovation, this is the really decisive aspect.”
Technology and products
Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) are energy efficient hardware cards based on integrated circuits. They have their own logic and memory components and can be freely programmed. By transferring computing-intensive algorithms to FPGA cards, it relieves the burden on the main processor and accelerates the respective application. Xelera Technologies GmbH has developed three software products for FPGA cards – Xelera Silva, Xelera Secure Network and Xelera Secra – that can accelerate business applications a hundredfold. The company also offers its own acceleration platform with the Xelera Suite.
- 08/2017-01/2019 EXIST Transfer of Research
- 04/2018 Foundation of Xelera Technologies GmbH
- 08/2018 Qualification for the TechBoost Program from Deutsche Telekom GmbH
- 09/2018 Main prize in the Digital Innovation startup competition from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi)
- 01/2019 The Passion4Business platform ranks Xelera as one of its Top50 Start-ups
- 03/2020 Xilinx invests in the company
- 06/2021 Startus Insights ranks Xelera as one of the 5 Top Edge Computing Startups
- 08/2021 Scalable version of XeleraSecra launched on the market