In Memoriam: Jean Deleage

Jean Deleage, co-founding partner of Alta Partners and an investment veteran of nearly 40 years, passed away March 16 from complications related to colon cancer.

He was 70.

In a letter to friends of colleagues of the firm, Alta issued a statement that read: “Deleage was a leader for Alta and a pioneer in our industry. He was a valued and cherished colleague, partner and friend, and he will be sorely missed by us all.”

Born in France in 1940, Deleage earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the École Supérieure d’Electricité and a Ph.D. in economics from the Sorbonne. Deleage began his VC career in France in 1971 when he joined Sofinnova. Five years later, Deleage founded Sofinnova’s U.S.-based operations based in San Francisco, Sofinnova Inc. In 1997, when Sofinnova split into two firms, the U.S. subsidiary would come to be known as Sofinnova Ventures.

Later, Deleage co-founded Burr Egan Deleage & Co., with partners Craig Burr and Bill Egan. The VC firm had offices in Boston and San Francisco. In 1996, Deleage co-founded Alta Partners, which over the years had invested in Tandem Computing, Tandon Magnetics, SyQuest Technologies, Chiron, Cephalon, Rigel and most recently Plexxikon.

The firm said that Deleage often joked that every successful career contains some measure of serendipity or even blind luck. Although he came to Silicon Valley to fund tech startups, he loved to tell the story of how good fortune graced his arrival to California in the form of an office mate named Bob Swanson, who would later found Genentech. Deleage was one of the first investors in the company, writing a $50,000 check to Genentech in 1977.

“Jean was truly a renaissance man who had interests and great proficiency in many fields. He often took passions to an extreme. He was a world class bridge player, who played international tournaments until his board load and family responsibilities made it impossible to remain competitive,” the firm said.

He is survived by his wife Josette; sons Andre, Emmanuel, Philippe and Michel; and nine grandchildren.

The firm asked that donations in his memory can be made for oncology research at UCSF Medical Center. —Alastair Goldfisher