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Talent Search Sends Startup to Sonoma

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
9/22/2000
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Fine wine or college football? Rolling hills or Rocky Mountains? Those are some of the tough quality-of-living choices facing prospective employees of optical networking startup Network Photonics Inc., which recently opened an office in Petaluma, Calif., to complement its Boulder, Colo., headquarters.

Network Photonics set up shop in Northern California this summer to tap into the area's pool of optical and telecom talent, which apparently exceeds that which is available on Colorado's Front Range. The industry's current high demand and low availability for optical engineers means many companies may soon be making similar multi-location decisions, according to one of Network Photonics' investors.

"One of the major changes in venture capital these days is that you have to go where the talent is," said Steve Krausz, a general partner at U.S. Venture Partners, one of the two lead investors (with New Enterprise Associates) in the $10 million initial round of funding Network Photonics received this past spring. In the good ol' days, Krausz said, VCs preferred to see their startups "in the same town, in the same building, and on the same floor, if at all possible," he said.

But the current state of the industry -- where optically inclined employees can pick and choose from multiple job offerings -- means that it's the investors and companies, not the employees, who need to be flexible, Krausz said.

"These days, prospective employees are saying they like where they live, and they don't want to leave. So you end up saying 'OK, we'll bring the mountain to you.' It's something that's happening almost everywhere in the communications space."

Network Photonics, which is working on a yet-unannounced, all-optical DWDM product, says it plans to develop its optical technology and subsystems in the Boulder headquarters, while concentrating on system-level hardware and software in the California office. The company was founded by president and CEO Steve Georgis, who was previously a cofounder of Exabyte Corp. (Nasdaq: EXBT), part of the storage-technology heritage of Colorado's Front Range region.

The Network Photonics California office (currently in Petaluma, but scheduled to move to Santa Rosa later this fall) will be headed up by Dave Arnold, Network Photonics' VP of system engineering and operations. Arnold was most recently the COO for Petaluma-based Mariposa Technology (which was purchased this week by Marconi PLC,[London: MNI]), and before that held several executive engineering positions with Advanced Fibre Corp. (Nasdaq: AFCI), another Sonoma County optical operation.

While none of the executives could be reached for comment Friday (perhaps they were out tasting California wines, or watching the leaves turn in the mountains above Boulder), Krausz said they -- and other leaders in similar positions -- face a big challenge in making multiple-location operations run smoothly.

"Having different locations just makes the CEO's job that much more challenging," Krausz said. "It's not a non-trivial situation."

Indeed, multiple-location startups seem to historically encounter plenty of headaches -- does the name "Fiberlane" ring a bell? But if the engineers won't move, what other options does a company have?

"Check back in two years," Krausz said. "Then we'll see if the idea works." -- Paul Kapustka, Silicon Valley bureau chief, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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