Taking NeoPhotonics from tiny startup to global player


Last year Tim Jenks pulled off one of the hardest tricks in the global economy: He merged his company with another one. In China.

NeoPhotonics, of San Jose, Calif., makes optical components for computer and telecom networking, and so did Photon Technology Co. Ltd. of Shenzhen. The way Jenks saw the situation, the fit would give a combined company manufacturing capabilities in China plus true global reach. This wasn’t Jenks’ first foreign venture: As a vice president at Raychem (acquired by Tyco in 1999), he managed joint ventures with companies in Saudi Arabia and Russia. But China presented a particular challenge. Jenks had to acquire state-owned shares of Photon Technology as well as to figure out how to combine the different cultures of China and Silicon Valley.

NeoPhotonics CEO Tim Jenks showed the nano set how to take advantage of globalization. Photo courtesy of NeoPhotonics
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The transaction closed in July 2005. The resulting entity, also called NeoPhotonics, has more than $50 million in annual sales and 2,000 employees. The company has been busy ever since, announcing new products, establishing a European distribution agreement and acquiring two more companies. Late last year the Shenzhen manufacturing facility achieved TL 9000 certification, an indispensable credential for supplying components to most of the world’s large telecom service providers.

Jenks has served as president and CEO of NeoPhotonics since 1998. He became chairman in 2004. While the company is privately held, it has attracted investments from a who’s who of venture firms, including Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Oak Investment Partners, Harris & Harris Group, DuPont Capital and Masters Capital Nanotechnology.

Jenks also oversaw the development and successful spinout of NanoGram Corp., which develops and licenses nanoscale manufacturing techniques to other companies (including NeoPhotonics), and NanoGram Devices Corp., a medical nanomaterials operation now owned by Wilson Greatbatch Technologies Inc.

All the while, he has been an active participant in the broader nanotech sector. Jenks served as a reviewer of the National Nanotechnology Initiative and panel author of the resulting publication, “Small Wonders: Endless Frontiers.”

Bob Gelfond

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Bob Gelfond left a successful career on Wall Street to found MagiQ Technologies. He has managed to commercialize a technology that had stymied most others: quantum information processing. MagiQ was one of the first companies to market a product for quantum cryptography, which makes data sent over optical fiber virtually impossible to decode.
Photo courtesy of MagiQ Technologies

Michael Natan

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Michael Natan co-founded NanoPlex Technologies in 2002 to commercialize novel, optically-addressed metal nanoparticles. The firm’s nanotags and nanobarcodes have many uses in diagnostics and security. He sold his firm earlier this year to U.K.-based Oxonica, a developer of nanomaterials, and it became Oxonica’s U.S. subsidiary. The combination promises new developments in detection and diagnosis. Photo courtesy of Oxonica

Jim Rock

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Jim Rock, CEO of Akustica, formed his company in 2001 to commercialize MEMS technology developed at Carnegie-Mellon University. The resulting microphones and speaker chips improve sound quality in cell phones and laptops. This year Fujitsu selected the Akustica microphone for its high-end executive notebook computers.
Photo by Roberto Borea

Billy J. Stanbery

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Billy J. Stanbery, president and CEO of HelioVolt Corp., has devoted a quarter-century to making solar power economically viable, first at Boeing, where he registered seven patents in thin-film photovoltaic technology, and then at his own company. HelioVolt incorporates photovoltaics, made of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), into conventional building materials. In April the company opened its first manufacturing facility.
Photo courtesy of HelioVolt