MENLO PARK, Calif. – New Enterprise Associates (NEA) has hired Nobel-prize winning astrophysicist and technology businessman Arno Penzias as a part-time venture partner who will work from his home in San Francisco scouting communications companies and evaluating deals.
Dr. Penzias, who worked informally for NEA throughout 1998 to become acquainted with the firm’s portfolio companies and the venture industry, will assume a more official role starting this year, said NEA General Partner Mark Perry.
Mr. Perry lured Dr. Penzias to his venture firm when the two met at a dinner a couple of years ago and the then-retired Dr. Penzias expressed interest in working with early-stage communications companies.
Dr. Penzias said he developed a “closer relationship” with NEA after working with the firm’s portfolio companies last year. In his new role, Dr. Penzias will continue to focus on information technology, “mostly on the telecommunications side.”
“I will look at companies and help decide if their technology makes sense,” he said, adding that he also would lend technical advice to portfolio companies and on occasion join their boards.
Dr. Penzias expressed excitement about his new job, particularly given the rapid growth in IT and his comfort with being a venture capitalist. “I am really enjoying this,” he said. “And my confidence has grown.”
Dr. Penzias received the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the Big Bang Theory. He also has authored two books, Ideas and Information and Digital Harmony. He moved to San Francisco after retiring from Bell Labs in Murrayhill, N.J., and currently is a senior technology adviser to Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs Innovations.
Mr. Perry expects Dr. Penzias to spend about one-third to one-half of his time working with NEA and the remainder traveling and lecturing.
Mr. Perry noted that despite Dr. Penzias’ strong academic science background, he has a sophisticated, pragmatic business instinct, which includes vast knowledge of patent filings. “He’s got an extraordinary instinct for intellectual property,” Mr. Perry said.
Dr. Penzias has the option of sitting on the boards of NEA-portfolio companies and of co-investing alongside the venture firm, Mr. Perry added.
Dr. Penzias’ promotion makes him NEA’s only venture partner apart from Stewart Alsop, who joined the firm’s Menlo Park office as a venture partner in 1996 and became a general partner in November.
In his work, Mr. Alsop will continue to focus on IT, particularly e-commerce and software, Mr. Perry said.
Mr. Alsop, who could not be reached for comment, also is a columnist for Fortune magazine. Prior to joining NEA, he served as executive vice president of InfoWorld Publishing Co. Inc., which publishes InfoWorld, a weekly newspaper for information-technology professionals.