Friday, May 29, 2009

Sayonara, SiCortex

I was sad to see the news this week that Maynard-based SiCortex is shutting down and selling of its assets after investors decided to turn off the tap. The ambitious maker of high-performance computers had raised $42 million, and CEO Chris Stone told me they'd shipped 60 of the machines in 2008 when we spoke late that year. (More coverage from Xconomy, GigaOm, and HPCwire.)

Some famous last words from my December 2008 chat with Stone:

    "Do I worry about raising money in this environment? Sure," Stone says. "But we're generating revenue, and the customers want to buy more."

The shut-down is bad news for local VC firms Flagship Ventures, Prism VentureWorks, and Polaris Venture Partners. (Bob Metcalfe was the Polaris partner who served on SiCortex's board; another of his portfolio companies, Greenfuel, also shut down in May.)

Ex-employee Jeff Darcy has an analysis of what went wrong on his blog:

    The only failure that mattered was not technical, nor in any area of customer-oriented execution: it was purely a matter of finance and timing. There is every reason to believe that our next system based on our next chip was going to be awesome, pushing our flagship system well into the Top 500 even before we talk about linking them together, and development was well along. Unfortunately, such development is not cheap and that put us in a high-burn-rate phase right when the economy turned sour and capital became very scarce. That’s like a “perfect storm” combination of circumstances. Maybe there are some things we could have done differently, but “coulda woulda shoulda” is a dangerous game. For example, some might say we should have cut costs sooner, even if it meant delaying the arrival of that next system, and tried to “weather the storm” until a better funding environment came around. Maybe. Or maybe, under other equally-likely conditions, that would have led to a far more ignominious failure as our competitors took the same extra time to adopt our approaches and use superior resources to leave us behind technologically. No thanks. I’m not in any mood to second-guess the people who made those decisions. I’d rather believe, and I think I’m justified in believing, that we played a good game and can walk off the field with our heads held high even though the score wasn’t in our favor.

Here's some video I shot at SiCortex's HQ in December 2008:

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