Xposing Xponent Photonics

Psst, it's a secret -- the old Ortel gang has got back together again, making lasers and receivers

July 4, 2002

4 Min Read
Xposing Xponent Photonics

New optical startups are getting harder to find these days, but there are still a few beavering away in stealth mode. One such is Xponent Photonics Inc. (Website under construction).

Xponent isn't ready to talk about itself yet. "We would rather stay hidden from view for a few more quarters," says its CEO Jeff Rittichier, adding that the company will have something more substantial to say around February next year.

Well, we would rather expose Xponent right now, because it's actually been in stealth mode for rather a long time -- two and a half years. It was incorporated in February 2000, starting out under another name -- cQuint -- according to company records held by the California Secretary of State.

Xponent has gotten funding from California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Office of Naval Research. It is also backed by VCs Comdisco Ventures, El Dorado Ventures, Morgenthaler, U.S. Venture Partners, and Walden International.

Reportedly, the company was founded by Amnon Yariv, a professor at Caltech, who previously founded Ortel, a manufacturer of lasers and receivers for cable TV networks. Ortel was sold to Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) in February 2000 for stock then worth $2.95 billion, when Lucent shares were worth $57 apiece (see Lucent Acquires Cable Component Vendor). Ortel subsequently became part of Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR).

It comes as no surprise, then, that Xponent is described by some of its VCs as making DWDM lasers and switches -- a similar line of business as the former Ortel.

Prospective job applicants are being told, apparently, that the company will make Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers (VCSELs), working on both 1310nm and 1550nm devices. If true, this means Xponent has conquered a problem that few others have solved (see Laser Blazers). Only two companies are believed to have developed true 1550nm VCSEL technology so far -- Bandwidth9 Inc. and German startup VertiLas GmbH, which secured funding last week (see VertiLas Secures Funding). However, it seems likely that VCSEL technology will be just one of the arrows in Xponent's quiver.

Yariv has brought a bunch of Ortel buddies on board at his new venture, according to an industry source who did not wish to be named. CEO Rittichier is a former director of marketing at Ortel, who was then promoted to general manager at Lucent/Agere. Xponent's VP of engineering is Al Benzoni, a former Ortel manager responsible for design engineering of OC192 (10 Gbit/s) lasers and photoreceivers. And its director of marketing is Ramzi Sawires, who was formerly a senior marketing manager at Ortel, responsible for OC192 lasers, photoreceivers, and Erbium Doped-Fiber Amplifiers (EDFAs).

Keen observers will notice that Xponent was founded the same month that Ortel got sold to Agere. And some say that the reason the startup is being so cagey now is because its executives signed a three-year non-compete agreement with Lucent. This agreement would expire in February 2003 -- coincidentally the same month that Xponent plans to make its debut.

"Technically they're not violating the terms of their agreement with Agere," says the source. "They want to make sure they don't actively sell anything until the agreement with Agere expires."

When Xponent does come out of stealth mode, it will come out with a bang, he reckons. Not only does the startup have a team with a proven track record of building a successful business, but it is also backed up by a team of world-class researchers at Caltech and other universities. Furthermore, Xponent's executives would have known that they would have to bide their time until 2003, and so would have avoided the pitfall of overgrowing the business just as the telecom economy was going sour.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.comWant to know more? The big cheeses of the optical networking industry will be discussing this very topic at Opticon 2002, Light Reading’s annual conference, being held in San Jose, California, August 19-22. Check it out at Opticon 2002.

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