VC Panel at the Wireless Summit

One of the highlights of the Texas Wireless Summit, 2012 was the venture capital panel moderated by Bob Metcalfe, creator of the Ethernet and Metcalfe’s Law, and professor of innovation at the University of Texas. The panelists included:

  • Ned Hill, Managing Director of DFJ Mercury
  • Al Schuele, General Partner at Sevin Rosin Funds.
  • Eric Zimits, Granite Ventures
  • Greg Franklin, Intellect Partners

When talking about the locus for talent and investment in wireless today, Greg Franklin mentioned that the United States was the leader in wireless technology for many years, basically due to the invention of many of these core technologies at Bell Labs. Over the years, the center of innovation moved to Europe with the advent of companies like Nokia and consumer mobile penetration reaching astronomical levels in Europe. Now we’re seeing things swing back to the US with Apple raising the bar on the consumer mobile experience, and with the technology focus being more on the IP protocol and apps.

Eric noted that as VC returns have diminished the capital being allocated toward wireless has gone down, but more large corporations are doing strategic investments in mobile, or they have sprouted up their own VC arms for investment. In general, device and infrastructure technology just isn’t hot right now, while the app category is very hot.

Eric was asked a question on payments and security. Payments is pretty hot and very diverse. There are many dimensions to the issue. Someone asked specifically about NFC, and that’s a good use case to show that it’s hard to get new technologies on the cell phone deck. NFC has been unable to get on every cell phone in the country, as some predicted it would. Al thinks that NFC will go the way of iRDA. Bob retorts that cell decks seem to be almost promiscuous. There’s 7 radios, accelerometers, touch screen technology, and 802.11. Eric notes that it took several years for those technologies to arrive on the deck. Greg also chimes in that it takes some agreement from the major players to decide what they want to support.

A question from the audience: Have things changed regarding startups that sell to carriers, or require carriers to be customers? The panel universally agrees that they’ve wasted millions trying to sell technologies to the carriers and being “trialed to death.”

Best of the day

Someone on the panel commented that they see their relationships in their ecosystem (partners, suppliers, vendors, etc) as key intellectual property. Insightful.

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VC Panel at the Wireless Summit