Eyeing IT spin-offs through an R&D lens

Venture capitalist David Tennenhouse draws on his roots at Intel and DARPA

Venture capitalists hail from all different backgrounds. Many are investment bankers or entrepreneurs; some are even former journalists. David Tennenhouse, a recent entrant into the venture capital world, hails from the research and development trenches. Tennenhouse is a former vice president and director of R&D at Intel. He also previously worked as director of the Information Technology Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and as DARPA's chief scientist. In addition, he has taught at MIT.

After most recently serving as interim CEO of A9.com, a subsidiary of Amazon.com that makes a product search engine and targeted advertising software, Tennenhouse joined New Venture Partners last March and opened a Silicon Valley office in California, for the venture capital firm earlier this month. New Venture Partners focuses on technology spin-off deals. Tennenhouse spoke with Computerworld last week about his role at the firm, his R&D background and some of the current research that interests him.

What prompted you to join a venture capital firm?

I love innovation. One of the things that has always concerned me is that you're always going to have projects in corporate R&D that are going to be successful -- but they're in the wrong place, they don't match the company's objectives or the company has changed directions. This always bugged me at Intel and DARPA, and [supporting such projects] is what New Venture Partners does so well.

You could say I'm exorcising my demons. In the past, there were cases where I've had great technical teams and they did everything you asked them to do, and for other reasons we ended up shuttering the projects.

What's your role with New Venture Partners?

I have a couple of different roles. One, being based out in the Bay Area, is to develop relationships with firms that are located here. I know a lot of the R&D directors out here. I'm staying in touch with those folks on a regular basis, staying close to projects that are in the pipeline and possible projects that might make sense for them to spin off. That's important because you really want the people on the technical team to know and trust you before the company decides to spin off the project or fold it up.

I'm also the guy who knows what it feels like to be on the other side of the table. Corporate R&D directors are under certain pressures to operate in a certain environment.

What types of spin-offs interest you the most?

The ones that are going to be really successful and have multibillion-dollar IPOs (laughs). Seriously, is there a technically compelling story, [and] is there an equally compelling business story? I really look for people, and a leadership team that is hugely committed to the technology and the project. That's really important in a spin-off scenario, because these are typically the most senior people in the organization that are helping to spin it off.

Do you use a technical barometer?

We're willing to look at whatever the corporate R&D team is willing to invest in. It's a different game for me personally. At DARPA, I would go and set the strategy -- the same at Intel. Here at New Ventures, we're following the projects that management has already decided to work on.

One area I'm interested in is proactive computing. In the '50s and '60s, computing was all batch-oriented. Since then, it has become more interactive. We're starting to reach a future where computers are proactive, anticipating what your future needs might be. I also look for better sensor networks and better uses of them. I was very involved in that at DARPA.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Thomas Hoffman

Computerworld

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?