Six Degrees of Milton Chang

Six Degrees of Milton Chang – Paul Kapustka

August 2, 2001

4 Min Read
Six Degrees of Milton Chang

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Welcome to the new optical-networking sitcom: Everyone Loves Milton!

And why shouldn't they? When Milton – Milton Chang, that is, the optical startup wizard – was stuffing guests full of succulent sushi, admirable appetizers, and fine wine?

Milton ChangAs the host at the launch party held here for Incubic LLC last week, Chang was typically bucking the trend – providing a bit of a bright spot in a season of industry gloom (see Chang's Investment Shop).

Where else, for instance, could someone wearing a "JDSU" name tag find sympathetic ears for a rant about how the company wasn't collapsing? Where else could the top dogs from New Focus Inc. wander around with glasses of Chardonnay and smiles, without dealing with the wrath of those who bought the stock at $100? (See JDSU's Acquisition Hangover and New Focus Sees New Losses.)

As at the wedding scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this was a happy occasion – and not a time to bicker about "who killed the quarter."

There's no better person to restore the zeal than Chang, whose legend is that he's never invested in a startup that failed. And there is no better way to illustrate Chang's business strength than through a party, where a mixed bag of techies, suits, VCs, lawyers, and entrepreneurs all seemed to know the host on a first-name basis.

Forget Kevin Bacon's degrees of separation – in the optical industry, Chang spins a much tighter web. If you were at Incubic's offices Thursday night, you probably either:

  • – Worked for or with Chang;
    – Were recruited by Chang;
    – Invested in one of Chang's startups;
    – Received investment money from Chang for your startup;
    – Or, may be on the path to one of the above and just don't know it yet.

Take Peter Clark, president and CEO of dynamic MEMS component vendor LightConnect Inc., a company Chang helped fund. Until last fall, Clark had no idea he was destined to lead a startup. As president and CEO of Hitachi Semiconductor America, he was "thinking about when I was going to retire." Then he met Chang at a fundraiser for CalTech, a school they both attended in the days of buggy whips and vacuum tubes.

"I sort of knew him in school, but we lost touch," Clark said. But after the chance meeting, Chang pestered Clark until the next thing Clark knew, he was leading a 44-person startup, which he says is well on its way to product launch (see LightConnect Comes Into Bloom).

Or take Chris Myatt, founder and CEO of Precision Photonics Corp., one of Incubic's startups. Myatt, who spent most of the Internet boom years working for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colo., had an idea and Chang's email address – and that's all it took for his company to get funding (see Precision Photonics Completes Round 1).

"There was a vetting process, of course, but since Milton knows everyone in the [Colorado] optical community, he was able to get information directly from our advisors," says Myatt, who is already talking to potential customers for his company's product. Though he wouldn't say what his company's product is, Myatt claimed to "have a prototype here in my pocket." This inspired some rude speculations.

Intel Corp. representatives were plentiful, because Intel Capital is one of the VC firms keeping a close relationship with Incubic. And Morgenthaler Ventures VC Drew Lanza kept tabs on the Intel guys, roaming the aisles of Incubic's offices sans his trademark bowtie.

There were also representatives from Mahi Networks Inc. (they came for the sushi) and Princeton Lightwave Inc. (PLI). And just to show he's no optical bigot, Chang also invested in storage-area network pioneer Gadzoox Networks Inc., whose representatives were also on hand.

In all, it was a pleasant evening at Incubic's Spartan quarters (think: spare glass-walled offices and one machine shop for grinding out prototypes).

Damn the depression, says Chang – it's a great time to be in a startup, as long as you have the right idea, the right people, the proper execution...

And the right connections.

- Paul Kapustka, Editor at Large, Light Reading

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