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Bob Walker Joins Sierra Ventures

Author: Jo Ann McDonald, founding editor

November 14, 2007... Our good friend and longtime compound semi industry leader Robert C. (Bob) Walker has made up his mind earlier than expected about what the next step in his colorful and successful career would be. He has signed on as a principal with one of the most prestigious international venture capital firms from Silicon Valley's famed "Sand Hill Road" group, Sierra Ventures.

Just about everyone in the compound semi industry knows Bob Walker. If you're new to our industry, it's my pleasure to introduce him to you. If you're one of the gang and know him well, sit back and enjoy my offbeat look back at some of the aspects of Bob's colorful career because he and I go back to the heydays when Emcore and Aixtron virtually established today's CS industry.

Moving from the present let's first take a look at Sierra and Bob's most recent accomplishments. This particular VC firm has an excellent reputation. Bob got to know them while serving as CEO of BridgeLux. He headed the company for two years, restructuring it to now be regarded as a recognized innovator in "power" LEDs in what is currently the most exciting sector in the compound semi industry. One of Bob's last great deeds at BridgeLux was to hand over the reins to none other than Mark Swoboda, formerly executive VP of Philips Lumileds Lighting.

Sierra Ventures is based in Menlo Park, California in the very heart and soul of "Silicon Valley". The firm is located on Sand Hill Road, which is way more than just a street address. "Sand Hill Road" is an information technology industry legend. Silicon Valley was spawned and nurtured by Sand Hill Road venture capitalists since the very beginnings of the phenomenon in the 1960s. I know. I was there. My first "real" job at 21 years old was as a receptionist at Varian Associates in 1961 when the actual Varian brothers were still around. Varian was a stone's throw from Sand Hill Road, which is essentially a nest of quiet, attractive offices located in the beautiful hills that literally overlook Stanford University and the entire Valley, which now reaches from San Francisco to Monterey on the western ocean side, and inland almost to the majestic Sierra mountains, from which Sierra Ventures took its name. Sierra Ventures has been around since 1982 and manages nine venture capital partnerships, which together have more than $1.5 billion of committed capital.

Sierra's reputation is as an investor in what they term all areas of Information Technology, the exception being biotechnology, medical device, or healthcare companies. With the addition of Bob Walker, they're obviously branching beyond software and internet companies. Bob will be working under one of Sierra's managing directors, Ben Yu, and will be focusing his attention on new investments in the areas of solid state lighting, cleantech, compound semiconductors, and semiconductor components and devices. Sierra's investments are global in geography, but Bob will particularly focus on his well-established relationships in North America and Asia. One of the things I liked seeing when catching up on Sierra was the term "cleantech." All one word and a word that says it so clearly. How proud we all should be that the CS industry's advanced photovoltaics and solid state lighting technologies are literally leading the way in the cleantech space.

Leadership. That's what it's always been about, and Bob Walker has naturally assumed a leadership position in our CS industry since I first met him in the mid 1990s at Emcore. When Bill Kroll, then executive VP of Emcore talked me into hanging up my journalist credentials for a bit to step inside the industry and serve as Director of Corporate Communications at Emcore, Bob Walker was the head of marketing and communications and essentially became my boss. He certainly wasn't bossy and ran the division as a true team effort. We never had it so good... and neither did the then-fledgling CS industry. That was back when Emcore was still primarily a MOCVD reactor manufacturer, competing head-on with Aixtron. Looking back, I'm convinced that the competition between those two incredible companies was the key ingredient in launching the compounds. The move by so many into high volume manufacturing of CS epitaxial wafers and components was the turning point. Prior to that, from the 70s through the early 1990s, the CS materials science and technology was the realm of high level defense applications and R&D. Esoteric. Exotics. "The components of the future and... always will be." While we'll probably never reach the numbers silicon components have reached, we'll always hold the performance records and our industry's contributions in the fields of solid state lighting and advanced solar cells will go down in history as the epitome of cleantech. And you simply wouldn't have today's optical communication, handheld devices and DVDs without us. The wave of the future has overpowered everyone... and long may we wave.

Bob Walker is someone who had the vision back in the mid-1990s and he's continued to help lead us ever since. He was one of the first to spot Shuji Nakamura's contributions to blue spectrum LED world. (I've never seen anyone try so hard to sell Shuji an Emcore reactor!) Bob was one of the pioneers in establishing working ties for CS suppliers in Taiwan, and later, mainland China. He was one of the first to recognize the power of the Internet and enlist it for communicating with Emcore's customer and shareholder base. When Emcore went public, Bob was there to help make a tremendous contribution towards weaving the corporate message to the general public and especially the company's future international audience. Along with Tom Miehe, Bob and the Emcore sales team headed the drive into Taiwan with MOCVD reactors for the growth of blue spectrum (white) LEDs, vying with Aixtron for every inch of the market. The now trite joke was that there were so many MOCVD machines in Taiwan that the island was in danger of sinking!

Since the Emcore MOCVD-days, and prior to joining BridgeLux, Bob Walker made significant contributions in the areas of Pacific Rim market analysis and venture funding. From 2001 - 2004 he served as managing director-US of Vincera Ventures, a US$150M venture capital fund based in Taiwan with several investments in the areas of HB LEDs and compound semiconductors. A Ph.D. grad from Cal Tech and originally from Wisconsin where he attended U of Wisconsin-Madison, Bob Walker endeared himself especially closely to us here at CompoundSemi Online Inc. when working in conjunction with Strategies Unlimited to produce the seminal work that assessed the true impact of the HB-LED revolution, the Asia High Brightness LED Report in 2003. He also served as co-chair of our CompoundSemi Blue 2004 and Blue 2005 Solid State Lighting international industry conferences in Taiwan. Blue 2008, by the way, will be held May 7-8.

And on a personal note, Bob Walker and his wife, Ella Shum have contributed to the industry in untold ways, starting with their days together at Emcore through their many contributive projects under their joint consulting firm, YEBY Associates. Ella and Bob have two lovely children and continue to astound us with how representative they are, as a family, of the future. They give us hope. So in my book, it's nothing but good news that Bob Walker has joined Sierra Ventures. He'll be a welcome bridge for many of you into the greater world of venture funding. Lucky us. Lucky Sierra Ventures.

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