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New chief operations officer to help ramp up SWAP Hub advancements

Jason Conrad brings industry experience to Southwest Advanced Prototyping Hub

Two people wearing protective clothing work in a lab

The partners in the Southwest Advanced Prototyping Hub have access to clean rooms at the MacroTechnology Works facility at ASU. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU News

March 01, 2024

Last September, the Southwest Advanced Prototyping Hub — a collaboration of more than 130 industry partners led by Arizona State University — received nearly $40 million as part of the CHIPS and Science Act.

Now, ASU has hired a chief operations officer to help ramp up work on the hub’s goal — to reduce the time it takes to transform lab ideas into practical solutions in the microelectronics industry.

Jason Conrad, who has worked at NXP Semiconductors, GlobalWafers and Lam Research, brings decades of industry experience to the role.

Conrad answered some questions from ASU News.

Man smiling

Question: How did you come into this line of work?

Answer: I started in semiconductors in 2000. When I graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Notre Dame, I got the opportunity to go to Austin, Texas, on an interview and visit Motorola and got hooked immediately on not only Austin, but also the semiconductor world, clean rooms, etc., and I jumped into the industry and never looked back.

Q: What was it about semiconductors and the clean rooms that appealed to you?

A: It was on the edge of technology and was something very different. As a chemical engineer, you're trained for the oil industry and I didn't want to do the oil industry. So it was a way to leverage my degree and skills on something that not many people knew about, was cutting-edge and really cool, and do something completely different that you can’t see, which is pretty awesome.

Q: What kind of changes have you seen in 24 years in the industry?

A: People here know Motorola, which was enormous back in the day, with about 156,000 employees in 2000 when I joined. And about two years later, there were less than 90,000. So the semiconductor boom and bust cycles have happened several times throughout those 24 years. 2001 was really bad, 2008, 2009. Obviously COVID. So there have been huge demand swings in the economy and semiconductor industry.

It’s a very global business that has taken me around the world. I spent three years working in Malaysia with running a factory.

Billions of dollars get spent in this industry, which is a very expensive, very high-pressure, high-paced industry. And it's so fundamental and important to the world we live in today. And until recently, hardly anyone knew how semiconductors work.

Q: Why did you decide to take the job at ASU?

A: In my normal career trajectory, it was just to continue progressing up the ranks and run bigger factories. But I wanted something a little bit different. With the CHIPS and Science Act funding, the huge focus around semiconductors and bringing them back to the U.S. and trying to get back on the innovation train again was a great way to leverage my experience while helping the U.S., helping ASU and helping Arizona to build this ecosystem.

One of the key aspects that I bring is the industry experience. So how do you marry industry experience with university experience and partner everything between groups, right? I think that's a key strategic move to not only leverage my experience, but also others that we're hiring to bring industry experience closer to the university.

Then there’s my experience in management over the last 15 years. Managing, leading teams, optimizing processes, growing teams and adding structure is what I do well.

Q: Why are semiconductors important?

A: People don't realize they're in everything. They're in your toaster now, right? You can't do anything without a semiconductor anymore. And over the last 20 years, we've seen manufacturing of semiconductors move from the U.S. to low-cost regions.

And now the CHIPS and Science Act is designed to help regain our leadership and bring manufacturing and innovation back to the U.S., especially in the need for defense and critical communications.

Read more

• ASU announces seed funding project partners for SWAP Hub

• DoD officials convene at ASU to learn about university-led microelectronics hub

Q: Why is the SWAP Hub important?

A: The main purpose of the SWAP Hub is to bridge the gap between fundamental research and industrialization by delivering prototype microeconomics. By creating this ecosystem, we're a hub of capabilities.

With our partners and members in the hub, we'll be able to figure out how to maximize the capabilities of the hub itself to accelerate semiconductor development to industrial relations.

It’s also an avenue for startup companies to grow and be successful by partnering with other hub members and aligning with Department of Defense needs.

There’s going to be a huge gap of talent over the next decade, and we don't have enough talent trained. So this also will enable a path to get more people prepared.

Q: As chief operations officer, what will you do?

A: It’s setting up and running the SWAP Hub. It’s engaging our partners across ASU, the government, university and industry to join the hub and take advantage of the capabilities that the hub has to deliver on the grant and project commitments.

So we're trying to go after more grants as well to do projects and deliver on DOD needs.

And then of course the workforce development. So enabling all that, executing and growing the business.

Q: What’s ahead for the SWAP Hub?

A: So it’s four things: Expanding the membership across the industry, government and university partnerships. Purchasing and installing semiconductor equipment to build the hub capability. Hiring and building the SWAP Hub team, with the right people in place.

And then winning the projects with the DOD to deliver the prototypes.

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