Tracking Simon Cao's Secret Startup
Cao's moves are of interest to many in the optical components space, due to his stature and long history in the market. Cao, a renowned expert in DWDM technology, helped found Avanex and worked briefly at Oplink Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: OPLK), and his departure from Avanex in May 2002 is given much of the credit (or blame) for the failure of the proposed merger between the two firms (see Avanex and Oplink: Wedding's Off and Avanex/Oplink Raises Some Hackles). Cao also worked at E-TEK Dynamics prior to its purchase by JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU). At E-TEK he is said to have helped create some of the world's first networked DWDM gear in 1993.
Cao's latest stop is Corlux, a startup located on Bayside Parkway in Fremont, Calif., down the road from a host of other optical technology companies, including Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN). Two sources claiming familiarity with Cao say he helped fund the company, but that can't be confirmed. Corlux was founded in 2001 and had 25 employees in January 2002, according to a profile from Dun and Bradstreet Inc.
Corlux's other execs include Brett Casebolt, CEO, a former investment banker at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., who joined Avanex as VP of business development in March 2000, but apparently left in 2001. Also on board is Jonathan Espy, director of operations and corporate marketing, who was a college classmate of Casebolt's at Drake University in Iowa, from which both graduated in 1995, according to online school newsletters [ed. note: Go Bulldogs!]. Corlux's CFO is one Robert Monkmeyer.
Finding Cao wasn't easy, but it turned out to be a walk in the park compared with discovering what Corlux is doing. Cao's not taking calls, although he's got a mailbox on the company's phone system. Espy didn't return calls at press time, and Casebolt was out of the office.
Clues, while scarce, are intriguing. One PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose resumé is posted on the Web, says he worked on "modulators, transmission formats, tunable lasers, and fiber propagation impairments" during an eight-month stint at Corlux that ended several months back.
A Japanese online product directory attributes to Corlux a 15GHz lithium niobate modulator spanning 1450- to 1650-nanometer wavelengths. This indicates that if it's really the same Corlux, the company is working on some sort of wideband optical modulator, one that might be used with tunable lasers to create subsystems for DWDM transport gear.
Sources say there's nothing really interesting about a modulator per se. Modulators are used in conjunction with lasers to translate digital signals from their electrical format -- a stream of different voltages -- into a stream of light pulses that can be carried over optical fiber. And most are capable of much more than 15 GHz.
"[T]hat really doesn't sound significant," writes Hava Volterra, VP of marketing and business development at CyOptics Inc., in an email. "There are several LiNb modulators on the market with similar (or close enough) bandwidth, and I can't imagine that this would generate any excitement."
What may prove interesting is how Corlux combines its modulator with other optical components to create subystem parts. That's the direction being taken by several stealthy startups, including: Kodeos Communications Inc. (see Kodeos Gets Started With $12M); Network Elements Inc. (see Startup Simplifies Line Cards); Optium Corp. (see Big Bear Promises Picnic); and Xlight Photonics (see Optical Packet Switching Lives On). In varying ways, these companies are making parts they say will make for smaller, faster, and, above all, cheaper switches, DWDM platforms, and other telecom gear. Above all, they aim to unify lasers with electronics, a goal also cited by VC Erel N. Margalit.
Experts say much of the development going on in this area won't make it to market in the form of products for another couple of years. But at Corlux, the presence of Simon Cao seems to indicate that at least one leading technology light in the sector thinks it may be worth the wait.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading