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Sparkolor Plays Catch Up

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
10/31/2000

Yet another startup, Sparkolor Corp., crawled out of the woodwork last week to announce that it’s going to develop optical integrated circuits based on indium phosphide (see Sparkolor Names Patel CEO).

Indium phosphide holds out a lot of promise in optical integrated circuits because it’s one of the few materials that can be used to make both active and passive devices. As a result, it could be used for making whole systems, like optical add-drop multiplexers, on a chip.

However, working with indium phosphide is notoriously difficult and Sparkolor is far from alone in tackling the challenge. In fact, it’s late to the party. It’s only just getting going while vendors like Agility Communications Inc., Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Nanovation Technologies Inc. have been developing indium phosphide manufacturing techniques for some time.

So, can Sparkolor catch up?

The startup won’t say what advantages it may have on the technology front. In fact, all it will say is that its first product will be a tunable laser - which makes it sound as though it's following in the same footsteps as Agility (see Agility Communications, Inc), albeit a year or so behind it.

However, there's evidence that Sparkolor has some secrets up its sleeve.

For a kickoff, Sparkolor is backed by Optical Capital Group (OCG), the venture capital company founded by David Huber, the secretive CEO and founder of Corvis Corp. (Nasdaq: CORV) and previous founder of Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN). Huber clearly knows his onions on technology and wouldn’t have coughed up his share of $13.25 million of funding for Sparkolor unless he thought it had something special. (The other lead investor was New Enterprise Associates).

Then there’s Sparkolor’s new CEO, Mukesh Patel, to consider. Patel founded Smart Modular Technologies Inc., a manufacturer of memory modules and computer cards, in 1989. Under his guidance the company grew its revenues to $1 billion, before it was acquired by Solectron Corp. in 1999. Patel clearly thinks Sparkolor could be just as big.

Finally, there’s the technical brains of the outfit: Dr. David Deacon. Deacon has a 25-year history in optical technologies and holds the five key patents relating to integration in indium phosphide. Deacon has helped found no fewer than three companies -- Deacon Research, Gemfire Corp., which is also developing optical integrated circuits, and now Sparkolor. Gemfire acquired Deacon Research in 1997, which raises an interesting question: Could Deacon recoup his past developments once more by having Sparkolor acquire Gemfire?

-- Pauline Rigby, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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