As a new partner in a new job, Bill Wiberg would be expected to put in some late hours. However, Wiberg, the newest addition to the staff at Advanced Technology Ventures, is also logging in a lot of road miles on his commute to and from work. His office in Waltham, Mass., is a four-hour drive from his home in New Jersey. He plans to relocate his family to Waltham just as soon as he can, so he’s been house hunting at night after he’s done working for the day. “If there was ever a great motivator to go find a house to buy, this would be it,” Wiberg says.
These days, Wiberg splits his time between reaching out to old friends and colleagues to tell them about his new job and embedding himself in the Boston area’s venture community, having lots of breakfasts and dinners with other VCs and entrepreneurs. He stays upbeat even when he’s brought into New York City early on a Monday morning for a flurry of meetings and introductions. He’s not afraid to take risks, as he showed his courage in eating Eggs Benedict, an uncertain dish to try in a new restaurant at a reporter’s suggestion. But Wiberg is accustomed to risks.
Wiberg made the transition from telecom executive to general partner in 2001 and most recently was a telecom investor at Orange Ventures. He cut his teeth on technology over 20 years ago at Bell Labs, which he joined fresh out of college. The timing couldn’t have been better. The next 10 years at Bell Labs were significant in his development as a telecom industry pro and investor. Wiberg saw the turnover of technology, as standards went from analog cellular systems to digital systems, and he witnessed the miniaturization of handsets and “all of the good things that have caused wireless to be such a success throughout the 1990s,” he says.
He then worked for AT&T in the early and mid-1990s, earning his MBA at Columbia University’s School of Business along the way. After his AT&T division became part of Lucent, Wiberg eventually became president of Lucent Technologies’ Cellular and PCS Wireless Networks division. At Lucent, he managed the team that built the networks that were built on CDMA and TDMA, which were later adopted as one of the principle technology standards for North American wireless technology.
Wiberg left Lucent in 2000 to join Bowman Capital, where he served as a general partner. Bowman Capital, an investment firm run by hedge fund operator Larry Bowman, was expanding into more traditional venture investing. But Wiberg left after a year when Bowman decided to bail out of private equity. The window for liquidity in the wake of the dot-com bust didn’t suit Bowman; he preferred public equities as an asset class and thus moved all of his private equity dollars back into public equities.
Wiberg found himself with free time on his hands and was set to take a year off from work altogether. “Like many people, I had this thought that it would be terrific,” he says. “I had worked extremely hard for the past 20 years and thought it was going to be a great time to take at least a year off and spend time with the family and pursue some personal interests. I went through January and went skiing with my friends and all that stuff, and then February came and I realized I was not ready to step out and relax for the duration.” He began to consider his options, which included an offer from a large telecom company for an operational role. He also started talking to Orange Ventures, which had contacted him on the heels of his leaving Bowman. Orange Ventures, which operates a $210 million fund, has a single limited partner, Orange, one of the world’s largest mobile service providers.
In the end, Wiberg decided to stick with being a VC. “Venture capital is very attractive to me for a variety of reasons,” he says. “The variety of the job and day-to day exposure to different people and different ideas is unmatched anywhere.”
The investments that Wiberg made at Orange Ventures, he says, are indicative of spending in the wireless space and the kinds of deals that he is looking to do at ATV. They include Opennet Telecom, which develops telecommunications business infrastructure services to various service providers and boasts Verizon and AT&T Wireless as customers; Netezza, an optimized storage system that allows for retrieval of information from large databases and has signed a commercial agreement with Orange; and Bitfone, which allows manufactures to do over-the-air software updates for wireless phones and has signed an agreement with Motorola to include its client in Motorola handsets.
“What I look for is the problem that’s so obvious that if you can solve it, the money will be spent even if the purse strings are tight,” Wiberg says.
While he was at Orange, Wiberg learned of an opening at ATV through its general partner Jack Harrington, who worked with Wiberg at AT&T. The venture firm was looking to build its East Coast’s IT investment team. So, after a little more than a year at Orange, which is located near his home in New Jersey, Wiberg left to join ATV in Boston with only a weekend between jobs.
(There is no word yet on who, if anyone, will replace Wiberg at Orange Ventures. Mike Dolbec is running the venture unit with the help of Rich Miner, who works on venture deals from an Orange research center in Cambridge, Mass.)
Wiberg insists that his leaving Orange Ventures had nothing to do with the decline of corporate venture capital or any problems within the Orange venture group. His move to ATV is a story of seizing on an opportunity to get into a more established traditional venture capital firm. “If somebody had told me a year ago that I would have left at this point, I would have thought it was quite unlikely,” he says. “But it’s simply the pull of the opportunity here. Orange Ventures is a sector-specific fund. It happens to be a sector I’m familiar with, wireless, but in the long term I’d like to be broader than that and I can contribute in a broader way than just the wireless sector.”
So now he finds himself looking for a house in the Boston area. He also says that he will keep in touch with Orange Ventures, which he says will remain a player in wireless investing. “I expect we’ll work on deals together in the future, where we see a wireless opportunity that we believe in,” he says. “And because of where wireless carrier spending is likely to go over the next few years, [Orange Ventures has] got a great investment platform.”
ATV has made 13 new investments this year, compared to seven new deals last year. Wiberg will focus on investments in the communications, IT infrastructure and software markets. His addition to the firm means ATV has two East Coast partners focusing on IT and two that make health care investments. Its West Coast office has three partners who focus on IT and telecom deals.
ATV suffered a setback earlier this year with the unexpected death of founding partner Jos Henkins. Henkins worked from the firm’s Palo Alto office and had been with the firm since 1983. He was regarded by many as that firm’s driving force over the past decade and concentrated his efforts on software, the Internet and communications-related ventures.
Wiberg is positive about ATV’s portfolio and says the firm is poised to make smart investments in IT over the next several years. “I’m an operating guy at heart, as is the rest of the team here,” he says. “That’s the common theme among the partners. We’ve all had significant operating roles in the sectors we invest in.”