Two-year-old NUVIA sells to Qualcomm for $1.4 billion

You know what’s great? Becoming a unicorn in two years. You know what’s even better? Exiting at unicorn status in two years.

This morning, Qualcomm announced that it was buying high-performance computing startup NUVIA for $1.4 billion, minus some coverage of working capital and debt.

The startup, which we extensively profiled on its launch after raising $53 million in a Series A in late 2019 and again a few months ago when it raised $240 million in its Series B from Mithril, was the brainchild of a number of star Apple chip engineers who had worked on the computing giant’s A series of chips that powered the company’s iPhones and iPads.

Much like how Apple’s new M series of chips for its laptop computers (so far) have dazzled with an almost revolutionary mix of energy efficiency and performance, NUVIA’s founders were hoping to use their experience in managing the power envelope while eking out high performance and bringing that to the data center. Given the sheer scale of power required by data centers to function, which is only going up with the demand for AI applications in the cloud, the hope was that NUVIA could have its cake and eat it too: offering high performance while cutting power and saving costs for cloud computing.

According to Qualcomm’s press release, NUVIA’s technology will be incorporated across the company’s line of chips, with its leadership centered around its 5G-focused Snapdragon chip. The company’s founders and employees are expected to join, and the deal must be approved by U.S. regulators.

NUVIA was one of the most compelling companies of the new crop of next-generation silicon startups, but it was also mired in a legal battle between one of its founders and famed former Apple engineer Gerald Williams III and his former employer. Apple filed a civil lawsuit against Williams in 2019 (California Superior Court of Santa Clara, 19-cv-352866), arguing that he attempted to recruit his former colleagues to join NUVIA in breach of his contractual obligations with Apple. Williams fought back through his own motions, and the two have been in legal discovery ever since, with the latest updates happening just last month with Apple and Williams demanding each other hand over certain documents as the case has proceeded.

We don’t know how the timing of that lawsuit played into the company’s quick exit, or whether Qualcomm’s significantly deeper relationship with Apple as a supplier might help the parties reach a quicker settlement. We’ve reached out to a NUVIA spokesperson for comment.

While that lawsuit was a cloud over the company, the end result is a unicorn exit at $1.4 billion on just shy of $300 million of venture capital fundraised in roughly two years. Mithril is probably not terribly thrilled given the quick turnaround, but earlier investors like Capricorn Investment Group, Dell Technologies Capital (DTC), Mayfield and WRVI Capital are probably doing a bit better on the multiples on invested capital front. And of course, the founders likely came out well ahead as well.