Diodes Inc. is basking in a bit of limelight. The Westlake Village-based chipmaker has been ranked No. 10 on Fortune Magazine's fastest-growing companies list. It also placed No. 28 on BusinessWeek's Top 100 small companies list and No. 45 among Business 2.0's fastest-growing tech companies.


The company makes discrete semiconductors tiny chips that serve a single function such as turning a light off and on. They're used in laptops, cell phones, digital cameras and iPods, which might explain a 422.7 percent rise in earnings over the past three years.


First-quarter net income was $7.2 million, compared with $4.9 million for the like period a year earlier.


Brand-new Chief Executive Keh-Shew Lu, a 27-year Texas Instruments Inc. veteran, garnered attention when he was tapped last month to lead Diodes into the brave new world of integrated circuits (more complicated chips). Diodes wants to expand into multifunctional, higher-margin products, and that's what Texas Instruments does best. "Those are exactly the products Lu focused on, so his TI heritage will really benefit Diodes," said Gary Mobley, an analyst at B. Riley & Co.


Diodes' vice president of sales and marketing, Mark King, seems unfazed by all the attention. "Our numbers have been pretty consistent throughout, but maybe we just finally hit their criteria," he said.


Fast Noise
Digital audio technology is accelerating and PhatNoise Inc. is making sure cars keep up.


The L.A.-based company just established a partnership with AB Volvo to offer its digital jukebox in Volvo cars. Called the PhatBox Digital Media Player, it sits in the trunk and can store up to 20 gigabytes of music in a removable hard drive. Stereo controls are wired through the car's sound system, and voice prompts allow for music browsing while driving. It's a music library on wheels without the CD cases on the floor.


The system costs about $900 through Volvo, and is also available through Mazda Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and Audi AG for about $800. In June, General Motors Corp. started offering the Phatbox factory-installed in its crossover sports vans by Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Saturn. PhatNoise also makes a high-end iPod adapter for $150 for Volvos.


The GM deal includes a partnership with Viacom Inc.'s Nickelodeon unit, EMI Music and eMusic.com Inc., (owned by JDS Capital Management Inc.) to offer TV programming, music and videogames. The 40-gigabyte hard drive in the GM version can split signals between the front and back "zones," allowing kids in the back to watch TV or play video games while parents in front choose their own music.


"It's the first time a car company, a record company and a media company joined together on a product," said Sharon Graves, chief executive of PhatNoise.


And who buys these integrated entertainment machines? "Tech-savvy yuppies," said Graves. The GM system appeals to a family market.


PhatNoise is funded by local venture firms the Tech Coast Angels and the Pasadena Angels, among others.


Leggo My Logo
In the ultimate groupie tribute, some of the biggest names in music will let the fans design their new T-shirts.


Agoura Hills-based BandMerch, a merchandizing company behind the shirts, shoulder bags and hats sold when bands go on tour, is in partnership with DeviantArt, a Los Angeles-based online artists network. The goal is to let the true music fan honor his or her muse.


Starting this summer, artists can submit entries for their favorite bands' new logo. BandMerch sifts through the entries and any design chosen by a band will net the artist $300 to $500, plus bragging rights. "We had an instant sense that it would be a huge well for us to draw on," said Keith Chagnon, BandMerch's president of marketing.


The company generated $20 million in revenues last year as the exclusive merchandizing agent for chick-rocker Alannis Morissette, punk group White Stripes, rapper Snoop Dogg, and hip-hop phenom Outkast, among others. DeviantArt has about 1.5 million members and a catalog of 12 million images.


In marketing speak, it's another way for the band to connect to the fans and perpetuate its own visual brand. "We like to say that we 'think outside the T-shirt,'" Chagnon said.


Infinite Space
Video game developer Infinity Ward, maker of the "Call of Duty" and "Medal of Honor" games series, just tripled the size of its Encino offices to 35,000 square feet from 10,000 feet, evidence of its growing business. Acquired by Santa Monica-based Activision Inc. in 2003, the company has developed the upcoming sequels to the original "Call of Duty" game "Call of Duty 2" and "Call of Duty 2: The Big Red One." The company has not yet announced any personnel expansion, and Activision declined comment.


*Staff reporter Hilary Potkewitz can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 226, or by hpotkewitz@labusinessjournal.com .

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