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Colin Powell Advises VCs

Colin Powell is coming to Silicon Valley. Sort of.

Using the word "global" an awful lot, VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers announced today that the former U.S. Secretary of State, who recently resigned from that job, has joined on as a limited partner.

Powell will work in an advisory role rather than doing day-to-day, hands-on management, so it's not like we'll see him take a board seat at some esoteric chip company. Rather, Kleiner Perkins seems interested in tapping Powell's knowledge of, well, global markets. The move makes sense considering the increased importance of China and India to the high-tech world.

High tech is not foreign ground to Powell, as he's been on the board of America Online Inc. [Ed. note: Is AOL really high tech?] Reports also indicate Powell might work with social entrepreneurism projects such as healthcare and micro-credit projects in Africa.

Still, Kleiner Perkins -- arguably the Valley's most famous venture firm -- might be looking to boost its celebrity value in hiring Powell. "KP is prestigious as a fund, so they're putting a focus on prestige-building. That's not what Silicon Valley entrepreneurism is all about," says Dennis Fernandez, managing partner of Fernandez & Associates LLP, a legal firm that helps startups develop patent strategies.

What Powell can help with is Silicon Valley's relationship with Washington. Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr frequently gets involved in Washington affairs -- he sponsored fundraisers for Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign and founded TechNet, a bipartisan political action committee. But, Powell provides incomparable political firepower.

"For example, there may be some immigration restriction put on the flow of talent, or restrictions on technology transfer to places like China. So, I think Powell's role could be not so much helping the startups, but in channeling Silicon Valley's business interests to Washington," Fernandez says. "There might be no better lobbyist for that."

Kleiner Perkins officials were not immediately available for comment.

Kleiner Perkins was a big, big investor in telecom during the bubble (see Vinod Khosla). These days, the firm is associated more with biotech investments and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). But the firm still places some telecom bets, such as chip company Scintera Networks Inc. and superfunded DWDM startup Infinera Inc. (see Scintera Piques KP's Telecom Interest and Infinera Raises $52M More). — Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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