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Six Degrees of Rembrandt Ventures

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
11/21/2000

Rembrandt Venture Partners, the most influential venture capital firm you've never heard of, is forming an optical incubator, code-named LightWorks, that will spawn four to five components companies in the next year or so.

"Rembrandt will be a lead investor in every company that LightWorks incubates," says Gregory Eaton, Rembrandt's general partner. Many pieces of LightWorks are still coming together, and the firm is about a month away from any formal announcements. Indeed, Light Reading sources say that the person Eaton and company have picked to be LightWorks' chairman hasn't yet left his current job at a networking equipment maker.

LightWorks will form companies by first acquiring or licensing new technologies from either university labs or corporate think tanks such as SRI International. Then LightWorks, with the help of Rembrandt and its backers, will form a company to develop and market each technology.

Rembrandt's involvement with LightWorks speaks to the incubator's chance of success in a competitive space. Rembrandt, an investor in Raza Foundries, has about $140 million in committed capital, and all of its funds come from individual investors (see Raza Raises Fast Cash).

Rembrandt typically invests in early-stage companies, putting in between $1 million and $5 million per round, Eaton says. The firm makes its mark, though, when it plays matchmaker between its 72 limited partners and young companies needing guidance and someone with a hefty Rolodex.

Eaton won't say who Rembrandt's investors are, only that the roster includes venture capitalists, professional athletes, well-known executives, and investment bankers. However, by invoking guilt by association, it's clear that those closest to Rembrandt deals are an influential lot.

Take AlterEgo Networks, a wireless content company founded by Eaton with his friends and frequent business partners Mike Santer, co-founder of Platinum Ventures, and Alex Hern, co-founder of Inktomi Corp. (Nasdaq: INKT). AlterEgo was formed in the same way LightWorks is planning to make components startups -- first someone bought the technology, then they built a company.

Eaton tapped Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) CEO John Chambers, InterNAP chairman Dr. Gene Eidenberg, and Credit Suisse First Boston managing director Frank Quattrone to invest in AlterEgo. He also helped the company add rumored Rembrandt investors such as Cisco's Ed Kozel and [email protected] CFO Ken Goldman to AlterEgo's advisory board.

Rembrandt's own advisory board includes tech investing heavyweights such as Foundation Capital's Paul Koontz and James Anderson, former Netscape CEO Jim Clark, Redpoint Ventures' John Walecka, and Canaan Partners' John Balen.

That said, it will be interesting to see what kind of financial and industry heft Rembrandt Ventures (and all of its friends) brings to the optical components space once the LightWorks incubator is launched. Without a doubt, the outfit will be a polished practitioner of Eaton's "It's not what you know, it's who you know" business philosophy.

Speaking of such connections, Light Reading has also learned LightWorks will likely align itself with another hush-hush incubator, San Francisco-based Silicon Valley Internet Capital (SVIC).

Eaton's friends Herns and Santer, along with former MarchFIRST (Nasdaq: MRCH) CEO Robert Shaw, founded SVIC. And while LightWorks will spawn components firms, SVIC is said to be creating network infrastructure companies, which may include some equipment firms. This summer SVIC closed a $10 million round of funding from Heidrick & Struggles, an executive recruiter. Santer wouldn't comment directly on LightWorks, but he shrugs off the fact that neither he, Eaton, nor Herns have played in the optical space before. Building companies is like producing a movie, he says. "We don't write the scripts or direct, but we know how to pull all the people together to get those things done."

-- Phil Harvey, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com



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