Dr. Xiaotong Lin, CEO of Coolstar Technology
In this edition of the WLI Entrepreneurial blog, we had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Xiaotong Lin, CEO and Co-founder of Coolstar Technology.
Dr. Lin was born in China and from an early age showed an intellect beyond her years. She read a lot of great stories about scientists and technologies including Nobel Prize winners and became very inspired. Seeing her gift and thirst for knowledge, her father showed her a newspaper article about a renowned university opening engineering related programs in China that accepted gifted students as early as age fifteen. “I remember it clearly even though I was only five years old and knew little about engineering back then. From then on, I knew what I wanted to do. I was accepted into the gifted program at 15 and built my future with the skills and tools I learned there.”
Q: You decided at a very early age to pursue engineering. Tell us about that.
Yes, I decided my path at a young age and it was very helpful in terms of setting aspirations, focusing on a specific field and accomplishing my goals. With this curriculum, I had three choices of majors – computer science, electrical engineering or control theory. Electrical engineering was an attractive and natural choice for me. I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and Ph.D, all in electrical engineering.
Q: Your career brought you to the States. Tell us about your early career experiences.
In 1997 I moved to the United States to start my Ph.D. program at Lehigh University. After graduation, I joined Bells Labs, Lucent Technologies in Pennsylvania in 2000, which at that time was a dream to me…Bell Labs was at the forefront of technological advancements in the industry. I worked as a Senior Member of Technical Staff in the research lab until 2005 when I got a call from a headhunter for an opportunity with Broadcom in California. I was hired to help launch a new business division, which functioned quite like a start-up. We started with five people on the architecture team and eventually the business unit grew to more than 100.
Until 2014, I was a Senior Principle Scientist at Broadcom responsible for ASIC architecture for Read Channel and Gigabit Ethernet chips sequentially. We created a storage chip that competed with Marvell. During this time, I learned a lot about the business and marketing aspects of getting a chip to market, which would prove to be very critical when starting my own company. At Broadcom I was also one of the main contributors to IEEE 802.3az (Energy Efficient Ethernet standard) and Automotive Broadreach Industry Specifications. I really enjoyed the collaborative aspect of working with other companies on the standard and found it a very interesting and rewarding experience.
Q: When did you decide to start your own company?
Up until this point, I had not thought of doing that. I was learning a great deal and gaining valuable experience. I was always the type to have an idea, set a goal and do everything I could to control the path to fruition. However, working in a large company, it is harder to push an idea forward and control all of the parts as there are many people and processes you must go through. After 10 years at Broadcom, and being a part of a smaller “start-up” experience within a large company, I was getting restless and thought it was time to break out on my own.
So, in 2014 I teamed up with a partner and Coolstar Technology was born.
Q: Tell us about Coolstar Technology.
Coolstar Technology, Inc. is a fabless semiconductor company located in Santa Clara, California. With its proprietary transistors co-developed with TSMC and cutting-edge circuit designs, Coolstar presents silicon-based Radio Frequency (RF) Power Amplifier (PA) solution breakthroughs for WiFi6 router applications that offer the highest efficiency with the best linearity performance. Coolstar’s proprietary RF device “NovaFET” can be further applied for the new 7GHz band for an even more remarkable market opportunity that helps its customers to significantly improve link quality and performance.
We raised three rounds of funding, hired top industry talent, and entered the production phase!
When Coolstar first started, my partner and I thought that we would license our technology, but we soon learned that the differentiation and customization to optimize the chip needed would be too expensive and the return would be marginal.
At that point, I realized I wanted to make the whole chip, but to do that, I needed to change the technology throughout the entire semiconductor supply chain. From working with the foundry to developing the device, the design, and the production – all to get a product to market. Such products, silicon-based RFPA, are targeted to outperform the state-of-the-art GaAs PA. I knew this dream was bigger, especially since this type of product had never been successfully developed in this industry, regardless of previous significant efforts. To realize this dream, we needed more people – the right people. This path would be much longer and harder, but I was up for the challenge! My motto has always been, “Dare to Dream Big”.
With this refocus, I knew that I needed someone highly specialized in the technological aspect of things. So, I reached out to an expert, Dr. Ren, showed her our problems and asked her two questions: “Do you think you can solve the problems?” and “If YES, do you want to join Coolstar”? The good news is that she was convinced to join the Coolstar team, and help create this big dream together. She is the right person to solve our encountered challenges!
Q: What do you love most about being an entrepreneur?
It is very challenging and never dull! Life is normally pretty straightforward – you have a problem and then you solve the problem but with entrepreneurship you do not necessarily know the problem. You don’t know what you don’t know. Therefore, it is very interesting to start defining the right problems, which to me is so challenging and thought-provoking. There is no defined career for an entrepreneur, everyone has a story and must find their own path.
Q: What are some mistakes entrepreneurs, especially novice entrepreneurs, make?
I see two main mistakes. First, you need to find the right workers and right path in order to be really focused. This quickly determines the priority of the company. Second, make no assumptions. Start with something you know about and continue to revisit the unknowns. Be careful of the “blind spots” or assumptions of the unknown about your business. This will help you avoid mistakes. Of course, you cannot avoid mistakes completely. Every company and person makes mistakes. But the difference is, if you make mistakes, how quickly can you react, adapt and fix it. Also, be persistent even if you continue to make mistakes.
Q: What advice can you give young women interested in the semiconductor industry?
It can take many years of experience before stepping out of your comfort zone. Everyone has self-doubt but you truly need to believe in yourself; it needs to come from within yourself. It is important that females go for it and give it a shot. Most importantly, women need to anchor themselves to maintain balance in her life.
Q: What does GSA WLI mean to you? Why is the initiative important?
It means a lot to me to be part of the GSA’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI). I feel like I play two roles – a giver and a taker. It is important to be part of the community of female leaders in this industry and I feel being a female entrepreneur in this industry, I can help others and share my experience. I can help other female engineers, because I am one, and I understand their feelings and can share my experiences.
There is much work to be done at every level, however. At Coolstar, I work hard to make sure females have a career path as that is very important. We have several females that make up our executive team, including CEO, CTO and CAO. Diversity is critical. I also want my company to feel like a home and family, not just a company. It is hard finding a good work-life balance so I want to help meet my employees’ needs.
We need to understand as an industry, how do we make it more attractive and what can we do to nurture females to have a successful path forward? Women, at different stages in their career, need to feel supported. As a woman in our industry, if we have problems or challenges, we don’t always feel empowered to speak out and ask for help. Then it feels difficult going forward and they want to quit. If they can get help and feel supported and encouraged, that makes a big difference. It would make retention easier in our industry.
Additionally, building channels for female engineers to be given community support is essential. This is where mentorship can come in. Get involved in engineering clubs or social networking opportunities with other women. This forms a community of support.
Q: The most important question of all…outside of your laptop and phone, what’s the most important thing you have with you?
My three kids! We love to spend time together. We like to drive around, listen to music and talk.
Xiaotong was an inspiration to interview and truly has some great advice for women engineers. The encouragement of her father helped plant the seed at a young age to set goals and she has done that throughout her life. Her dreams culminated into entrepreneurship and creating products that make a positive impact on people and the industry in significant ways.
Xiaotong, CEO of Coolstar Technology and a member of GSA’s Women’s Leadership Council, has been the CEO and board director since Coolstar Technology was founded in 2014. She has made strategic engagements for the company with top partners and customers and successfully built a top technology team with industry gurus. Under her leadership, the company has built two major product lines: Silicon-based RFPA and Power Management IC. Both product lines are based on Coolstar’s disruptive and proprietary technology platforms co-developed with TSMC, outperforming the state-of-the-art.
From 2005 to 2014, Dr. Lin was a senior principle scientist at Broadcom, responsible for ASIC architecture for Read Channel and Gigabits Ethernet chips. She was one of the main contributors to IEEE 802.3az (Energy Efficient Ethernet standard) and Automotive Broadreach Industry Specifications. Before joining Broadcom, she was a senior member of the technical staff at Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies. She holds 10 granted patents and multiple IEEE journal publications.
Dr. Lin graduated from the Gifted Students Program at Shanghai Jiaotong University in 1995. She received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Lehigh University in 2000.