CELUS: Shaping the Future of Automated Electronic Board Design

As all the devices around us are getting smart—from your car to your washing machine, let alone your mobile phone—electronics are already everywhere. Thus, lots of different boards need to be designed for lots of different use cases! 

Still, electronic engineers spend a lot of time searching for components for their new board—from reading datasheets to googling on the Internet. CELUS supports these engineers by connecting them to component manufacturers through a platform and by automating the schematics and PCB board design process using AI—from recommending components to laying out the floor plan. 

Founded by Tobias PohlAlexander Pohl, and André Alcalde in 2018, it raised a €25M series A from Earlybird Venture CapitalDeutsche Invest Capital Partners, existing investors SpeedinvestPlug and Play, and various angel investors. It went also through the Intel Ignite program.

Learn more about the future of automated electronic board design from our interview with the co-founder and product director, André Alcalde: 

Why Did You Start CELUS?

Something seemed missing! I worked as an electronics engineer in the past, reading and writing datasheets of electronic components, searching for components endlessly on the internet before ultimately starting with the actual board design. I felt this process could be improved and that engineers shouldn’t waste their time looking for the information they need but rather focus on the creative part of the design itself.

Since I was a kid, I have been involved with electronics. These issues around finding and selecting the right components might seem fun as you’re just getting started. But once you’re doing electronics design for a living, it starts to get tedious, and engineers like me were looking for a more straightforward way to get the task done.

I worked for Intel before, where I could do lots of things as an employee. But as with many corporates, things also take longer and are less flexible than in a startup. So, thinking about the future, I decided that I wanted to found a startup—not just any random startup, but specifically a startup to tackle board-level electronics design. So my co-founders and I founded CELUS to make electronics design activities more intelligent and smart products affordable for everyone.

How Does Electronic Board Design Work?

We have developed different products to address different aspects of electronic design. Our CELUS Engineering Platform is the place where all the players of the electronics industry come together—all the engineers, board, and component manufacturers. It allows them to exchange information in a smart, digital way instead of sending datasheets around. Like Amazon is a marketplace for all kinds of goods, our platform is a marketplace where manufacturers can exhibit their components—and we suggest suitable components then to engineers based on their board design project. 

We built CELUS Orbit to manage data for our engineering platform, extract information from data sheets automatically using natural language processing, and facilitate data input to our platform. 

Finally, there is CELUS Supernova, our AI that helps you automate the electronics design process from component selection to floorplanning. It captures the engineer’s design intent by abstracting from diagrams, formulae, and engineering data and then automatically carries out the design process. In the end, the engineer reviews our designs and optimizes them based on AI’s feedback about the components and architecture. 

How Did You Evaluate Your Startup Idea?

When we examined the electronics design market and supply chains, we realized that many of the key players had been in place for 30+ years and that their processes still relied on outdated assumptions about what the electronics design process should be. We saw an opportunity to build something from scratch based on modern technologies involving AI and the cloud to deliver a better experience to engineers. 

We started with many pilot projects, which helped us acquire a good customer base and let us focus more on actual product development today. As we onboarded the first customers to our platform, word of mouth led to more customers joining our platform: If your competitors or suppliers are listed, you want to be listed as well. 

Advice for fellow deep tech founders: Plan for scaling up in advance! The challenge of building a successful deep tech startup is not only getting the tech right but also bringing the tech to the market and creating a team that can sell or market it. Looking for talent is a major challenge, and you need to think pretty well about how you organize it, what type of person you’re looking for, how your hiring process looks like, and how you can scale your team and still work as efficiently as a small team.