Xu Lingjie, a co-founder of Biren Technology, a Chinese startup aiming to build China’s own chip design powerhouse akin to Nvidia, has departed the company this week.
His exit comes after another co-founder, Jian Guofang, resigned in March 2023. These two high-level departures may pose challenges to the company’s growth trajectory and its aspirations to list in Hong Kong.
It’s unusual for two key co-founders of Biren Technology to resign successively within less than a year.
Jiao Guofang, a seasoned R&D expert, boasts over 25 years of experience in GPU product architecture and development. Prior to his tenure at Biren Technology, he spent 11 years at Qualcomm and later held the role of Chief Scientist of GPU Technology at Huawei’s Futurewei division, overseeing the development of the HarmonyOS graphics and UI system framework.
Xu Lingjie, with a background in senior management and GPU architecture at Nvidia, AMD, and Samsung, brought invaluable expertise to Biren before his departure. He also served as the Director of Alibaba Cloud’s Intelligent Business Group, leading AI & GPU development efforts at Alibaba Cloud.
Rumors have circulated about conflicts between the co-founders and Biren’s founder and CEO, Zhang Wen, regarding the company’s strategic direction and leadership control. However, Biren Technology has not issued any official statements regarding these executive departures.
Xu Lingjie thanked Zhang Wen and the other co-founders as well as relevant team members in an internal company email. He also mentioned that he will continue to focus on the AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) sector without providing any details to the reasons of his departure.
Founder and CEO of Biren Technology Zhang Wen holds a Doctor of Law degree from Harvard University. Before founding the company in 2019, his professional background was primarily in law and as a private equity fund manager. He also served as the president of Chinese AI company SenseTime.
Biren Technology has been seeking to list in Hong Kong since 2023, according to Chinese media reports.
With the formal implementation of the listing rules for special technology companies on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in March 2023, the listing threshold for hardcore technology companies has been significantly reduced. It was considered conducive to allowing more tech companies like Biren Technology to list in Hong Kong.
In October 2023, the U.S. added two Chinese domestic GPU designers, Moore Thread and Biren Technology, to its "Entity List". It meant that chip manufacturers like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) won’t be able to make advanced chips for Biren.
At the time, Biren Technology issued a statement saying that it strongly opposed the inclusion and called the American agencies to reevaluate its inclusion.
Biren Technology was considered a top contender to build something akin to American chip design powerhouse Nvidia.
The company attracted top technical talents, including Li Xinrong, former AMD Global VP and General Manager of China R&D Center; Hong Zhou, former Chief Architect of GPU at Huawei Hisilicon and Senior Architect at Nvidia GPU; Liang Gang, former Head of Software Development at Intel and Software Engineering Lead at AMD; Chen Wenzhong, former Head of AMD GPU Chip Development; and Zhang Linggang, former Head of AMD GPU SoC.
Due to its strong founder team, Biren Technology raised several rounds of massive venture financing from top investors including Qiming Venture Partners, IDG Capital, Hillhouse Capital.
In June 2020, it completed a Series A financing round totaling 1.1 billion yuan. In August 2020, it completed a pre-Series B financing round of nearly 900 million yuan. In March 2021, it completed a Series B financing round totaling over 3 billion yuan. In December 2023, it completed a new round of financing totaling 2 billion yuan, bringing its total financing to over 7 billion yuan.
In September 2021, Biren Technology launched its graphics GPU product line. In March 2022, it unveiled its first general-purpose GPU, and in August of the same year, it released its first general-purpose GPU chip.
In August 2022, Biren officially launched the GPU chip BR100. Built on TSMC’s 7nm process, the chip achieved over 1000T of 16-bit floating-point performance and over 2000T of 8-bit fixed-point performance. Its single-chip peak performance has reached the PFLOPS level, making it comparable in performance to Nvidia’s H100 released in 2022, according to the company.
Establishing a robust chip manufacturing ecosystem is highly challenging, demanding significant capital, technology, and resources. The departure of key executives only compounds the uncertainty surrounding its future growth trajectory.