Optical/IP Networks

Weiss Peck & Greer Becomes Lightspeed

The venture arm of Weiss Peck & Greer LLC renamed itself Lightspeed Venture Partners today and announced the closing of a new $1 billion fund focusing on communications and Internet-infrastructure software.

Hewing to its new moniker, the fund plans to have a "heavy presence" in the optical networking arena, according to Chris Schaepe, one of Lightspeed's founding general partners. Like its predecessor, Weiss Peck & Greer Venture Partners, Lightspeed will focus on early-stage investments, Schaepe said. (Disclosure: Weiss Peck & Greer is an investor in Light Reading.)

Former Weiss Peck & Greer VP general partners Gill Cogan, Barry Eggers, Amal Johnson, Ravi Mhatre, and Peter Nieh are also founding general partners of Lightspeed, which will operate as an independent entity, headquartered on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, Calif.

Like other VC firms interested in optical matters, Lightspeed sees a large chunk of its future opportunity in the components space, including the development of cutting-edge technologies, as well as smarter methods of packaging and integrating current components, Schaepe said.

Portfolio companies in the new fund include fiber-optic assembly concern iPhotonics (based in the Baltimore area), France-based Teem Photonics (which makes small form-factor amplifiers), and the Iris Group, a recently announced consortium of optical-networking startups that will share a common networking technology infrastructure(see Iris Group Attracts $60M ). Schaepe said Lightspeed does not disclose the amount of funding it provides to its portfolio companies.

The name change was made, in part, to provide Lightspeed and its investment companies with a catchier handle, Schaepe said. "We needed to increase our branding [ability], because that's something that's becoming more important in the venture industry," Schaepe said. "Our companies need help to rise above the noise."

Schaepe also said that Lightspeed will work aggressively to help its startups recruit talent, the primary stumbling block to success for many new companies. To that end, Lightspeed announced the hiring of Margaret King, formerly a principal with executive-recruitment house Spencer Stuart, to oversee the recruiting needs of Lightspeed's portfolio companies.

On the marketing side, Lightspeed hired June Bower, a 23-year technology marketing veteran who was most recently head of corporate communications for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), to help its startups form better communications and sales strategies. According to Schaepe, optical startups often need more help on the business side, given that their founders' backgrounds are usually technical in nature.

"In the optical area, you usually have highly technical founders who may not have the [necessary] core competency in sales and marketing," Schaepe said.

Target areas for the new fund will include optical components that enable higher bit rates or products that support intelligent wavelength provisioning, Schaepe said. Lightspeed is also interested in companies that integrate components or perform packaging outsourcing, either of components or system-level products, he added.

Lightspeed, whose founders previously participated in the funding of such optical-market success stories as Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) and Sirocco Systems (recently purchased by Sycamore Networks Inc. [Nasdaq: SCMR]), said it will eschew market segments that Schaepe said "are getting a bit crowded," including tunable laser components and switching systems.

"We're looking for things that are niches now, like 40-Gbit/s technologies, that can get big later," Schaepe said.

Lightspeed also announced the launch of its "Bright Futures" charitable program, under which it will earmark contributions to the fund in the name of non-profit organizations. Lightspeed said it will contribute $100,000 to the new fund in the names of Plugged In and OpNet, two Bay-area nonprofit organizations that are working to provide high-tech training and job opportunities for disadvantaged communities. The nonprofits, Lightspeed said, will receive "far more" than the original contribution as proceeds from the fund are distributed.

-- Paul Kapustka, Silicon Valley bureau chief, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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