Michael McCorquodale: Engineering a U-M Startup to Commercialized Technology in 5 Years

We spoke to Dr. Michael McCorquodale when he was here on campus as the 2009 CoE Alumni Society Recent Engineering Graduate Award. We provide updates since that time at the end of the story.
Listen to Dr. Michael McCorquodale’s (MSE PhD EE) talk, “Straight Down the Crooked Path: The Dynamic Process of Commercializing Research,” given to students during the 2009 Michigan Engineering Alumni Weekend.

Integrated Device Technology, Inc. (IDT) is the new home for Dr. Michael McCorquodale (MSE PhD EE ‘00 ‘04), who founded Mobius Microsystems just as he finished his doctoral degree in 2004. He served as CTO of Mobius until the company was acquired by ITD in January 2010, when he was named General Manager, Silicon Frequency Control Business Unit, Communications Division for ITD.

“It’s so weird to be talking about my life like this,” said Michael in 2009. “There’s still so much I want to do.”

Michael came to Michigan from Hughes Space and Communications Company interested in developing silicon frequency references as a potential technology for space applications. At Michigan and on the advice of his advisor, Prof. Richard B. Brown (now Dean at the University of Utah), he investigated the use of solid-state circuits to replace quartz as a frequency reference.

“A lot of people wanted to accomplish this,” stated Dr. McCorquodale. “Quartz-based frequency references are essentially vibrating rocks, and they’re fairly large. If you can achieve the same function in silicon, it gives the added benefits of integration with other electronics, the ability to stack in packages, much smaller form-factor, and the lowest possible cost structure.”

“This technology goes into everything,” added McCorquodale. “The iPhone for example has 7 frequency references that are quartz. These can be replaced with our tiny pieces of silicon.”

When it appeared that he found a successful solution, Michael turned his attention to commercializing the technology. “Rich really encouraged me to pursue my entrepreneurial interests – and that’s when I connected with the Zell Lurie Institute and participated in business plan competitions to see if we could develop a business around the technology. People became interested in it, and after starting the company, we began raising money and building products based on the core technology.”

Michael entered the market with a venture capitalist’s dream, a disruptive technology. “This is a new business for semiconductors because quartz is its own technology and product, and now silicon can replace it. It’s an entirely new market that was not served by silicon until now,” explained McCorquodale. With IDT, the world leader in frequency generation products, Mobius’ patented all-silicon timing technology is expected to find wide use in products around the globe.

Moving with Michael to IDT are Eric Marsman (BSE MSE EE ‘00 ‘01), Scott Pernia (BSE MSE EE ‘02 ‘03), and Gordy Carichner (BSE MSE EE ‘89 ‘91), all U-M colleagues hired by Michael. Gordy was just the fifth employee at Mobius, and he left a secure job at Michigan to join the team. Though commercial success was just a dream at that point, Gordy stated, “I believed in Michael and the team he was building. The fact that he was trying to make this happen in Michigan was also a big attraction.” Marsman was also delighted to work on cutting-edge technology here in Ann Arbor, and added, “it’s rewarding to see our achievements getting noticed, our devices getting traction in the industry, and other people trying to do what we’re doing.”

Always a high achiever professionally, Dr. McCorquodale has also participated in a wide array of community service activities. He’s demolished abandoned houses in Detroit, volunteered at soup kitchens, planted trees, and served as an elected district Councilman. “The most enjoyable has been tutoring homeless children in math and science,” stated McCorquodale. “These were children that were between homes, or having custody issues.”

When asked about the future, Michael said “I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing in different roles and capacities: developing new technologies, building new businesses, starting new companies, and getting them to the point that other big companies can use them. It was really tough, but I’d like to do it again.”

Dr. McCorquodale offers this advice to students who dream of following a similar path:

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do something. And when you choose to do something, make sure you’re determined to finish it.

Since 2010, Dr. McCorquodale has left IDT, worked with at least two additional startups, and taught a course in MEMS at U-M.