CEO of UNIM Innovation (Wuxi) Co., Ltd
In this edition of the WLI Entrepreneurial Blog, we had the pleasure of speaking with Grace Gong, CEO of UNIM Innovation (Wuxi) Co., Ltd. I hope you enjoy reading this interview and learning about her journey.
Q. Tell us a little about your background and why you joined the industry.
I’m Grace Gong, CEO of UNIM Innovation (Wuxi) Co., Ltd. I have more than 20 years’ experience in the Semiconductor industry. Before UNIM, I was head of marketing and sales at YMTC. My past experience also includes different marketing and sales leadership positions at Micron, Infineon, Numonyx, Spansion, and AMD.
I hold a Bachelor Degree in Material Science from Fudan University and an MBA from Southern Methodist University.
The reason for me to join the industry is interest. I was fascinated by how fast the semiconductor industry is evolving and powering the innovation of the entire tech world. I started my career in the memory industry at AMD around 20 years ago, when memory was still a small segment compared with CPU and other ASIC. Since then, the memory industry has been seeing double digit bit growth in each year and has become more critical in each electronic device. As a marketing and sales professional, I love to talk with my customers and partners. At many occasions, the discussion gives me new ideas and inspirations, which helps me define our next new product or technology development trend.
Q. Tell us about your vision for UNIM Innovation and what led you to found a company.
My vision for UNIM Innovation is to be a global leader in the memory industry by providing innovative technologies. As a startup, we not only design products to meet the customer’s current requirements, but also strive to develop next-gen technology to solve customers’ future challenges such as better performance, lower power consumption, lower system cost, and smaller footprint. We hope to consistently bring value to our customers, and bring the innovation to the industry with our customers together.
I decided to found UNIM innovation after I observed the discontinuity of innovation and investment in middle and low density NAND and DRAM by current major players, despite the continuous growing demand in this market. Samsung, Hynix, Micron, Kioxia and WD are the major players today. They are focusing on the 3D NAND and high density DRAM such as DDR5, LPDDR5 which has the biggest scale. They gradually exited from the middle and low-density NAND and DRAM market with less portfolio and very limited capacity. Whereas the bit growth in mid and small density memory continues strong, driven by IoT, networking, consumer electronics, wearables, auto, and industrial applications. Customers are suffering to source these products with stable supply and price. So I shared my observation with DR. Qiang Tang, ex-CTO from YMTC and Ray Wang, ex-CEO from Dosilicon. We finally decided to found UNIM innovation, with the product focusing on mid and low density memory products such as SLC NAND and MLC NAND.
Q. What excites you about entrepreneurship? What are the most exciting or interesting aspects of your job?
I would like to say it is the challenge. Running a start up company, just like starting everything from scratch, I need to solve many unexpected challenges. Sometimes we even think the task was mission impossible, but we finally made it with limited resources and in a tight schedule. For example, we successfully taped out our first product within only 6 months since the company was set up. Our design team was very efficient, everybody tried their best effort and shared a sense of urgency when we needed the first product to be launched by the end of the year. We did everything in parallel, such as finding the office in Shanghai and Wuxi and furnishing, 2 rounds of financing, set up all infrastructure and system including IT, and etc. Tackling all these challenges excited me a lot, and made me feel a sense of achievement.
Q. What were/are the challenges of being a female entrepreneur?
I didn’t encounter any particular challenges during work because of my gender. Actually, in the current business environment in China, I receive the same respect from my customers or business partners as male entrepreneurs. My only challenge is that I need to balance my time on work vs with family. Luckily, I have big support from my family so I don’t have concerns on this aspect.
Q. What advice do you have for young women who would like to become entrepreneurs?
First, set up a goal and stay with it. Second, find the right partners and team members who share the same goal. To be an entrepreneur, you need to develop your knowledge in product, technology, marketing & sales, management, strategic observation, etc. More importantly, to let the professional people to do the professional thing.
Q. What do you think we can do to make the semiconductor industry more attractive and retain women?
The public is always more interested in people with successful stories. By interviewing more females in the semiconductor industry and telling their success stories, I think women will tend to have more emotional resonance and be willing to understand the semiconductor industry behind the interviewees. The understanding is the most important step for attracting and retaining.
When flexible working hours and working from home are adopted by more and more companies in the industry, it helps retain women who need to balance their work vs traditional role in the family. Furthermore, equal salary and promotion opportunities need to be highlighted when the industry tries to attract and retain women. In many semiconductor companies, women can foresee the glass ceiling in their future career path.
Q. How do you encourage men to become allies in gender equality?
The time we treat each other only based on his/her professionalism, I think it’s kind of gender equality. Hence, for my male colleagues, I always encourage them to judge others only through their professional knowledge and skill set and what they’ve done. Besides, women with different characteristics sometimes contribute different opinions, which helps men understand the whole thing that he cannot realize or understand without allies that are women. For example, if there are many people in the room observing the same object from a different angle, no one knows what the object looks like in 360 degrees unless everybody contributes their part of the observation.
Q. How do you imagine the world will change in the next 10-30 years? Where do you think you’ll be then?
With the geopolitical and pandemic implications, the world is changing rapidly. But no matter how, I still believe globalization is always the theme, especially for the semiconductor industry. The semiconductor industry needs a united global effort to develop. Win-win cooperation is very important. I think, at that time, I and UNIM Innovation will contribute more for the industry and society.
Q. What advice would you give your younger self?
It is never too late to learn new things. Always keep curiosity.