Leapfive Technology CEO Aglaia Kong:
The Energy Interconnection Has Great Potential,
and RISC-V Leads Industrial Innovation
Over the past two years, a series of policies aimed at promoting the high-quality development of the integrated circuit and software industries in the new era have been introduced, including the “Several Policies to Promote the High-Quality Development of the Integrated Circuit Industry and Software Industry” and the “Announcement on Corporate Income Tax Policies to Promote the High-Quality Development of the Integrated Circuit Industry and Software Industry.” These policies have effectively unleashed favorable conditions and bolstered the innovation capabilities and development quality of the chip industry, while also attracting trillions of CNY in capital investments to the industry chain, leading to an increasing number of companies joining the race and collectively fostering the growth of the domestic chip industry chain.
To promote the comprehensive and high-quality development of China’s semiconductor industry and contribute to the vision of building a strong technological country, Phoenix Net Shenzhen, in collaboration with the Guangdong High-Tech Industry Chamber of Commerce, Shenzhen Industrial Federation, Shenzhen Chip Industry Association, Shenzhen Artificial Intelligence Industry Association, Shenzhen Integrated Circuit Industry Association, and Shenzhen Internet of Things Industry Association, has jointly launched a special feature titled “Empowering Chips, Envisioning the Future.” This initiative aims to facilitate discussions among experts, scholars, associations, and entrepreneurs from both the Bay Area and beyond on various aspects of chip technology, chip commercialization, and chip policies, with a focus on exploring the current and future development of China’s semiconductor industry. Recently, Phoenix Net Shenzhen had the opportunity to interview Aglaia Kong, the CEO of LeapFive Technology, to gain valuable insights into this field.
Aglaia Kong, the CEO of LeapFive Technology
On a day in 2017, Aglaia Kong heard that a real estate “tycoon” wanted to meet her. Her initial reaction was to refuse, saying, “I don’t know Mr. Lee, and I have no interest in meeting people from the real estate industry.” At that time, Aglaia Kong was the Chief Technology Officer of Google, while Mr. Lee, on the other hand, was a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Vice Chairman of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, and the Chairman of Henderson Land Development Group, Peter Lee Ka-kit.
When Mr. Lee came to visit for the second time, Aglaia Kong gladly agreed.
Mr. Lee said, “I hope you can return to China and start a business, realizing the ambition of ‘chip patriotism.’” These words ignited a spark in Aglaia Kong’s heart, who wanted to “change the world with technology,” and the two quickly reached an agreement. Consequently, she resigned from her high-paying position and returned to China to start her own business.
After returning to China, Aglaia Kong founded LeapFive Technology, focusing on the core technology of chip architecture. In just over three years, LeapFive Technology developed a high-end application processor, the NB2, becoming the industry’s first edge intelligent high-end processor product based on the RISC-V architecture. It has been applied in the State Grid Corporation of China and various other fields.
During an interview with Phoenix Network in Shenzhen, when discussing the future of the energy internet, Aglaia Kong still spoke with excitement, passionately analyzing the current challenges and opportunities in the field.
Defying the Current in the “Cold Winter”
Over the span of three years, the semiconductor industry has faced both triumph and adversity.
In the latter half of 2022, geopolitical issues and the impact of the pandemic caused the previously thriving semiconductor market to take a swift downturn. As the market faltered, many investors withdrew their support. However, LeapFive Technology defied the prevailing trend and continued to make progress, capturing the attention and favor of Huajin Capital, Dahengqin, Zhuhai Sci-Tech Venture Capital, Jingcheng Capital, and Shantou Investment Fund. They successfully secured a Series A funding round worth hundreds of millions of CNY.
For a startup company, this was undoubtedly a stroke of luck, but more importantly, it signified market recognition of the company’s capabilities.
To Aglaia Kong, the founder of LeapFive Technology, this investment marked a significant milestone for the company, signifying their official transition from the research and development stage to the market stage.
“Chip product design and development require long-term investment and patience. It typically takes two to three years to bring products to market. Therefore, during the early stages of our entrepreneurship, we chose to focus on technological accumulation and R&D innovation. To be honest, this process was extremely challenging.” Said Aglaia Kong.
She believes that the open-source chip architecture RISC-V has the potential to address the current bottleneck problem in China’s chip industry. In the future, it could compete alongside ARM and x86 architectures. However, RISC-V currently faces two major challenges: slow porting speed and an incomplete ecosystem.
The lack of a robust application-level software system in the RISC-V field has led to significant product homogeneity, with over 95% of products concentrated in the mid-to-low-end MCU category. When given the choice, manufacturers naturally gravitate toward simpler control-level chips.
Breaking through the fiercely competitive domestic market, burdened by intense competition and overwork, is no easy feat. As Aglaia Kong puts it, they are undertaking a challenging endeavor. Considering the global trend of deglobalization, she believes that the Chinese semiconductor industry should not solely pursue technologies like 5nm but also chart a path of high-end, differentiated, and innovative development.
LeapFive Technology has indeed followed this approach. Over the course of three years, they have maintained their focus on technological research and development.
In 2022, LeapFive Technology successfully developed RISC-V chips and officially launched their first multi-core heterogeneous high-end RISC-V architecture processor “NB2” along with complementary board products. It represents the first domestically produced 12nm RISC-V chip.
On the journey of LeapFive Technology’s growth, Aglaia Kong serves as the company’s CEO and spearheads the efforts to overcome the challenges of chip development.
Etched in the Soul: Resilience
Aglaia Kong, upon returning to China, embarked on an entrepreneurial journey in the field of energy internet, driven by her passion for technology. Despite her limited knowledge of company management, business models, and commercial structures, she embraced the challenge wholeheartedly.
Aglaia Kong said: “At the time, we had no idea how to run a company. We didn’t even have a business plan. It was our passion that fueled us to establish the company.”
During the initial exploration phase, she demonstrated a warrior spirit, channeling her passion into an extraordinary drive for action. She and her team committed themselves fully, dedicating every moment, except for eating and sleeping, to work.
With unwavering perseverance, Aglaia Kong Technology achieved mass production and application of their first independently developed chip “BF2” in the same year. This chip played a significant role in enabling ultra-low-cost and low-power wireless connectivity applications for the Internet of Things (IoT), particularly in home appliances, electrical engineering, and security. Leveraging the streamlined, stable, lightweight, and cost-effective advantages of the RISC-V instruction set, the BF2 chip proved its importance. Additionally, the “NB2” chip smoothly entered the testing phase.
However, an impending crisis silently loomed. The pandemic, with its uncontrollable nature, disrupted chip research progress at Aglaia Kong Technology.
Logistical disruptions caused by the pandemic resulted in the chips, which involved significant investment, getting stuck during transportation to China. This led to a domino effect, where chips couldn’t enter, and raw material costs continued to rise.
Every crisis presented a severe test of Aglaia Kong’s wisdom. Upon discovering the withheld chips, she immediately sought solutions. She gathered the team swiftly to assess the situation, evaluate risks, and without hesitation, used her personal savings to address the financial challenges. After multiple negotiations and coordination efforts, a breakthrough finally emerged.
Aglaia Kong said: “I had to sign an agreement that allowed us to receive the goods. Among thousands of parcels, I had to locate the boxes containing our chips, one by one.”
In 2021, Aglaia Kong Technology successfully manufactured the “NB2” chip using 12-nanometer technology. This chip boasted four powerful “brains,” each capable of 64-bit processing with a high frequency of up to 2GHz. Specifically designed for edge computing scenarios, the NB2 chip incorporated AI, IoT, and other technologies to achieve high efficiency and low power consumption. Its applications primarily included smart homes, intelligent industries, smart cities, and smart energy.
Aglaia Kong’s dedication and determination in her career have been evident for years. Previously serving as the CTO, she paid little attention to market demands or profit considerations. However, witnessing the challenges faced by the sales team compelled her to change her mindset.
“I witnessed the difficulties the sales team faced. They didn’t dare to voice their concerns even when customers were demanding.” Said by Aglaia Kong.
Subsequently, she delved into market thinking and transformed her professional direction. Today, Aglaia Kong seamlessly transitions between the roles of CTO and CEO.
Resilience cannot be judged without experiencing hardships, and the true strength of a woman is revealed when facing challenges. Regardless of the difficulties her company encounters, Aglaia Kong never retreats. In the face of crises, she stands firm like an undeterred warrior.
To build a technological “Kingdom”
LeapFive Technology is a research and development-focused technology company that has targeted System-on-Chip (SoC) products for industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Their objective is to tackle prevalent issues associated with mainstream architectures, including environmental risks, high licensing fees, and functional homogeneity.
To support their product strategy, LeapFive Technology has established the ABC data resource platform as the foundation. This platform facilitates data tracking, traceability, and identification of data usage.
Within the realm of industrial IoT, LeapFive Technology has developed three distinct chip product lines, ranging from edge to micro-edge to core. These product lines address control and connectivity challenges at the edge, as well as computing and intelligent applications at the micro-edge and core, respectively. Moreover, they have integrated specific features like security and blockchain into certain series.
In summary, LeapFive Technology’s strategy can be characterized as “three horizontal lines, one vertical line, and one platform.”
An exemplary collaboration for LeapFive Technology is their project with the State Grid Corporation of China, where they employed RISC-V architecture chips to overcome common issues in power IoT development. These challenges encompass high computing power, low power consumption, and autonomous controllability.
By utilizing the NB2 chip, which combines a main control unit and an AI accelerator, LeapFive Technology not only meets the autonomous controllability requirements of the State Grid Corporation but also demonstrates notable advantages in terms of process, temperature, and computing power. Consequently, LeapFive Technology has established a long-term partnership with the State Grid Corporation.
Aglaia Kong said: “We collaborated with the State Grid Corporation to develop a chip that has found wide application in power grid monitoring and supporting systems. To achieve our goals, we had to ensure chip stability and meet various technical requirements, and we have successfully accomplished these objectives.”
Aglaia Kong envisions a technological “kingdom” where the future of the energy internet holds immense possibilities. Through the construction of a grand and majestic infrastructure, Aglaia Kong gathers human wisdom and inspiration. Upon success, this vision will benefit every ordinary person.
For LeapFive Technology, deeply rooted in the field of the energy internet, the “3060 dual-carbon goal” represents a significant and hard-won opportunity. After more than three years of steady development, LeapFive Technology is now rapidly advancing.
Within the confines of her limited space, Aglaia Kong’s heart encompasses the vast expanse of the world. This is a true reflection of her character. In moments of silence, she resembles a dormant volcano, harboring immense energy, awaiting the right moment to erupt. During times of crisis, she fearlessly embraces challenges, forging new paths through mountains and building bridges over rivers. Under the leadership of such a charismatic female figure, LeapFive Technology will undoubtedly march resolutely toward the envisioned “technological Kingdom.”