Big Bear Comes Out of the Woods

After remaining hidden in the stealthy startup forest, Big Bear Networks has emerged with a CEO and a mission, but no announced products just yet.

Founded a little over a year ago, the Milpitas, Calif.-based Big Bear has named former Tyco International Ltd. (NYSE: TYC) vice president Mark Thompson as its president and CEO and has set forth its product intentions: To build modules for the 40-Gbit/s systems market.

"We're not yet shipping or announcing products," says Thompson, who was most recently VP and general manager of Tyco Electronics' power components division. While Big Bear expects to have some more tangible news about its planned products late this year, of perhaps greater importance is closing a second round of funding, a task Thompson hopes to complete in the next few months.

"There's some genuine enthusiasm for what we're doing" among investors, says Thompson, who is cutting his teeth in a grizzly funding market. Big Bear is currently living on $20 million in seed funding it received last year from Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital (see VCs Boost Optical Investments ).

On the sales side, the company faces a challenge in that its targeted customers -- large system vendors who sell into the carrier space -- are struggling through some of their bleakest hours (see Dell'Oro: Transport Market Down 23% ). Then there's the unproven potential and demand for 40-gig systems, which are still in the drawing-board stages of evolution (see 40 Gbit/s Takes the Slow Lane).

"It's not about what the [sales] environment is this year; it's what it will be a year or two out," Thompson says. "We still think [40-gig systems] will be a great market."

On the physics side, Big Bear's husband-and-wife founders boast impressive resumes. Laura Adams, Big Bear's chief technical officer of optics, was previously director of optical data systems at Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), where she was involved in 10-Gbit/s systems production. According to the company Web page, Adams demonstrated 40-Gbit/s all-optical clock recovery for her PhD thesis.

John Paul Mattia, chief technical officer of electronics, has 15 years' experience in high-speed circuit and device design, according to his company biography. Previous experience includes stints at Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), Lucent, and Bell Labs.

Thompson says he brings high-volume manufacturing experience to the Big Bear table, a critical factor in the module and components world.

"You have to design [modules] to be manufactured in the first place," says Thompson. "You can't build something in onesies and twosies and then try to scale it up."

According to John Jaeger, Big Bear's vice president of marketing, the evolution of the company's name happened when the co-founders were hiking back East.

"They were going down a path and saw a little bear cub," Jaeger says. "The immediate question was -- where's the big bear?" Though the name seems to have little connection with optical networking, Thompson says "it's memorable, and it sticks with people."

Jaeger says it's also been a way to attract potential employees. When it first moved into its current offices, Jaeger says the company set up a 35-foot inflatable bear in front of the building, "probably violating every code in the city of Milpitas." The puffy mascot, he says, generated "a good flow of resumes" from potential employees who'd seen the bear while driving by.

- Paul Kapustka, Editor at Large, Light Reading

flanker 12/4/2012 | 7:59:48 PM
re: Big Bear Comes Out of the Woods
40 Gbps eh? That's soooo 1999. Maybe they can make Martin Landau Director of Sales.
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