STARKVILLE — During the past five years, SemiSouth has grown from a two-man operation to a 45-member strong organization, with plans to add more employees to its new facility located in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park at Mississippi State University (MSU).
“The company has always been the result of a strong partnership of MSU, the Mississippi congressional delegation, private investors, loyal customers and dedicated, highly educated employees,” said Dr. Jeff Casady, president of SemiSouth. “All of those partners are vital to our success. MSU has been instrumental in providing new, innovative SiC technology, human resources, expertise and research partnership on government contracts from NASA, Department of Defense, Department of Education and Department of Commerce. Without MSU’s focus on engineering and SiC research, SemiSouth wouldn’t exist and we wouldn’t be celebrating this exciting milestone.”
Casady and Dr. Mike Mazzola founded the silicon carbide (SiC)-based semiconductor company in 2001, which Dow Jones and Venturewire named in 2005 one of the “Top 50 Emerging Technology Companies.”
Casady, an industry leader in the design and development of SiC power switches who earned a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University, worked for Northrop Grumman on several key projects, including the development of high-frequency S-band and L-band SiC RF and power transistors for pulsed, narrow-band, high-power radar applications, both ground-based and airborne.
Mazzola, who received his Ph.D. from Old Dominion University in 1990, has conducted research in the areas of SiC device prototyping and semiconductor materials growth and characterization for the last 12 years. He was an electronics engineer in the Pulsed Power Research and Technology Group at the Dahlgren division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. He joined the MSU faculty in 1993 and was designated an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator in 1995.
As SemiSouth’s vice president of technology, Mazzola manages engineers dedicated to research in power electronics and SiC device design and reliability for future applications in the automotive industry and other commercial and defense applications. He is also responsible for managing the development and application of SemiSouth’s intellectual property for product development.
“In any competitive setting, people must be fully engaged, and understand their role and its importance,” said Casady. “We don’t focus on titles and aren’t hierarchical. Everyone here has a valuable, unique role to play and is deserving of respect when they do quality work. As management, our objectives are to build the right team, communicate the opportunities for us, and provide the guidance and resources necessary to win in a highly competitive industry.”
Because SemiSouth is also a microchip manufacturer, key staff members include technicians and equipment operators responsible for the company’s manufacturing operations. Scientists, engineers and technicians represent corporations such as IBM, Texas Instruments, Sony, Motorola, Intersil and many others. Nine employees have Ph.Ds; at least 16 are MSU graduates.
“Building the right team is perhaps the most challenging aspect, so we spend a lot of time on recruiting the best talent to our company,” explained Casady. “We look for people who are intelligent, skilled and passionate about the work we’re doing here. We also expect them to be good team players, meaning that no one is irreplaceable, but everyone is valued. There are several times in any company’s life when our collective back is against the wall, and we’ve had our share of those times. During those times, we learn a lot about the integrity, strength and commitment of our workforce and ourselves. We know we have an opportunity to bring a new energy efficient disruptive technology to the market. It can enable more efficient and affordable automobiles, smaller, more compact electrical power supplies for radars, computer servers, ships, aircraft and elsewhere. It’s a very humbling opportunity that one seldom receives in life, and we’re committed to make the most of it for our customers and stakeholders.”
Mazzola emphasized MSU’s role in providing “a great place to incubate both the technology that SemiSouth is now bringing to market as well as some of our key employees.”
“A start-up company, especially one that is in an early stage market such as silicon carbide power semiconductors, must have a strong research university with the same core competency in its backyard,” he said. “MSU has been that university for SemiSouth. The challenge for MSU is not to give up its core competency too quickly. Faculty and universities tend to change, but an industry is not built over a five-year tenure period.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.