Stealth mode duffers

Two years ago, when Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma began to talk about partnering, their joint venture was code named “Project Pebble.” That’s because the two had first met over a game of golf at the famed Pebble Beach golf course. The execs were taking a break from the CEO summit meeting and conference hosted by San Jose, Calif.-based Hua Yuan Science & Technology Association, also known as HYSTA, a group representing the tech community in the United States and China.

Qi Lu fondly remembers Project Pebble, which resulted in Yahoo investing $1 billion in the Chinese Internet portal. Not only is Lu a board member of HYSTA, he’s a senior VP at Yahoo.

Last month, Lu and other HYSTA board members were on hand at the offices of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a sponsor of HYSTA, to talk about the next conference. This year’s HYSTA conference and summit is set for May 2 at the Santa Clara Convention Center and is set to feature a keynote address by former U.S. Vice President and Oscar winning documentarian Al Gore. No word on whether Gore will sit in on a panel moderated by KP Partner Aileen Lee about meeting the future energy challenges in the United States and China.

We wonder if this year’s conference will produce an energy-related collaboration that’s nicknamed Project Santa Clara. After all, the Santa Clara Golf & Tennis Club is adjacent to the conference locale.

Lu and others declined to discuss such matters, but they acknowledged that they will again host a round of golf for the 50 to 60 CEOs attending the conference. They declined to say which course the execs would tee off from, so we guess you could say they will be golfing in stealth mode.

Clarke honored for grrl power

When Cardinal PartnersJohn Clarke told his daughter he was receiving an award from Astia for his work with female entrepreneurs, he was met with befuddlement.

“Well, why are you getting an award if they’re doing all the work?” she asked her dad. Clarke recalled this anecodte in his acceptance speech last month to Astia, a mentoring organization for women-led companies. Cardinal received a 2006 Diversified Portfolio award for directing 40% of its investments to startups with female CEOs.

Later in his speech, Clarke explained to the predominantly female audience why he—a brother to six sisters and father of four daughters—might actually be deserving of the award. Ceremony host and Wall Street Journal columnist Kara Swisher kiddingly told the audience that Clarke is “more of a woman than we are.” But the Cardinal managing general partner conceded that he’s not the only male in his household. His family has a male dog.

NVCA plays musical chairs

The National Venture Capital Association last month announced that Ted Schlein, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers would succeed Bob Grady as chairman for the upcoming year. But, as we reported a year ago, the job had originally been expected to go to Heidi Roizen of Mobius Venture Capital. So, what happened?

In short, Mobius is now not planning to raise a new fund, and Roizen said that she felt that the chair position should be filled by an active investor. NVCA spokeswoman Emily Mendell says that Roizen approached the board last September, and recommended that another member assume her role in 2007.

“This was a difficult decision for NVCA because Heidi has been an extremely valuable board member and would have made an excellent chair,” Mendell explains.

What, me worry?

What keeps VCs up at night? That was the question that NVCA President Mark Heesen posed to incoming and outgoing board members at the organization’s annual conference in April.

Outgoing Chairman Bob Grady of The Carlyle Group said that he worries that “there’s a real mismatch between the entry environment in venture capital and the exit environment.” Board member David Prend, managing general partner of Rockport Capital Partners, said that he fears that investors’ newfound enthusiasm for cleantech companies may not be as sustainable as technologies being developed. Dixon Doll of DCM-Doll Capital Management took the safe route, saying he’s concerned about continuing to deliver returns for current investors on par with previous funds.

Give a hand for Kaman’s arm

Inventor Dean Kaman—best known for his engineering feats, such as the Segway Human Transporter and wheelchairs that are capable of climbing stairs—has added another rare accomplishment to his entrepreneurial resume: a standing ovation from a roomful of venture capitalists. The applause wasn’t so much for his slow-growing Segway company, which has raised $136 million in venture funding since 2000. Instead, Kamen was recognized for his FIRST program, which pushes students to pursue science and engineering careers.

In his keynote speech to the NVCA conference, Kamen also demonstrated his research company’s latest innovation: an 8.9 pound prosthetic arm with a power grip.

An appealing VC

Why does Kaj-Erik Relander of Accel Partners look so glum? Probably because he lost an appeal to remove “convict” from his resume. But Relander shouldn’t feel too down just yet. He’s still got one more shot with Finland’s Supreme Court.

Relander joined Accel in 2001 and, you might remember, was convicted in 2005 of having violated Finnish privacy laws while he was CEO of telecom giant Sonera Corp., which is now part of TeliaSonera. The court found that Relander had ordered an illegal review of employee phone logs, which he used to determine who leaked information to the media about an internal company dispute.

He received a six-month suspended sentence, while Sonera security chief Juha Miettinen got a 10-month suspended sentence.

Relander has been fighting his conviction ever since, but last month lost an appeal in front of the Helsinki Court of Appeals (although the Court did throw out charges related to email log snooping). He told reporters that he would file one last appeal with the Finnish Supreme Court, but press reports suggest that such appeals are only successful in about 10% of cases.