Here’s our Mercury News piece today (requires free registration) about the latest Silicon Valley company to get money from the CIA’s venture capital branch. You’ll have to scroll down to second half of article.
Following are a few more tidbits about the company, called Cambrios, which hopes to use biology to create new manufacturing processes for things like liquid crystal displays.
(1) Apparently, In-Q-Tel (the CIA’s venture arm) is interested because it thinks Cambrios’ technique might have potential in finding inexpensive ways to manufacture Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, CEO Michael Knapp says.
(2) As is often the case when Silicon Valley veterans like Knapp are at play, there’s an interesting set of ties and tensions at Cambrios. Turns out, one of Knapp’s closest allies is Larry Bock, who helped Knapp co-found his earlier venture, Caliper, and take it public. Bock is now CEO of the Palo Alto nanotech company Nanosys. Nanosys and Cambrios share other ties. One is Clint Bybee, a venture capitalist who is a member of both boards. But another is a competitive tension with big-name Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Kleiner Partner Vinod Khosla last year criticized Nanosys’ plans to go public, suggesting the company’s business model was too uncertain — and Nanosys pulled its IPO plans shortly thereafter. And Khosla has invested in ZettaCore, a Colorado company that is pursuing a similar approach to that of Cambrios — using biological molecules to manufacture memory chips.
While Khosla might have his own interests in drawing attention to questions about Nanosys’ IPO readiness, it’s noteworthy to check out Bock’s record: As we wrote here, Bock has a knack for getting companies off the ground, and publicly funded, but they often take years to make money — if they ever do. Caliper, for example, is still losing money, after launching in 1995. Hopefully, as Knapp steps out on his own at Cambrios, he’ll manage to turn it into a profit-making venture. True, patience is needed for biotech — often years and years — still, it surprises us how early some of these biotech companies want to go public.
(3) On a good note, the multiple connections between Silicon Valley investors rarely allow hard feelings to run too deep. One of ZettaCore’s investors, Oxford Bioscience Partners, is also an investor in Cambrios. And In-Q-Tel, another investor in Cambrios, is an investor in several of Kleiner Perkins’ other portfolio companies. So, coopetition it is. That’s what makes this place go round.