Ex-Intel Capital chief starts Oregon VC fund

More than two years after he left Intel Capital, John Miner, former president of the corporate venture arm, has resurfaced in the Northwest managing a small VC fund.

Miner and attorney and co-founder Bill Campbell have raised $2 million toward the first fund of Altien Investors, a Portland, Ore.-based venture firm. The partners structured their fund to invest in one company, a Beaverton, Ore.-based analog chip company called Avnera, which has raised about $37 million from Altien, Intel, Bessemer Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures and others. Miner sits on the Avnera board.

Altien plans to raise another fund to invest in its next startup, says Campbell. He declined to say how many companies the firm intends to back over the next year.

The fund structure allows the nascent firm to get experience and build a track record that it can put in front of limited partners. “The institutional investors who we spoke with were intrigued with both of our backgrounds,” says Campbell, who has worked with startups as an attorney for 30 years. “But that’s different from a track record. They said they’d be interested on fund three.”

The firm has 17 accredited investors in its first fund, according to a regulatory filing. One of the investors is Peter Wolochow, the director of Intel’s Joint Pathfinding Office, which is charged with accelerating the incorporation of Intel research in its products.

Campbell says that Altien will work closely with Intel, which employs 16,000 people in research and development roles in Oregon and is the largest private employer in the Beaver State.

Miner stepped down as head of Intel Capital in June 2005, after two years as president and 22 years overall with the chip giant. Miner wanted to start his own fund since his departure, according to an interview he gave to The Oregonian at the time.

Meanwhile, Campbell has tried to form an investment vehicle for some time. He approached Miner for an investment in a nascent venture fund when Miner still worked at Intel Capital. “He basically said that Intel Capital didn’t do that,” Campbell says. But they continued to talk. And when Miner left Intel, the pair started to “explore possibilities.”

The firm is not the first to leverage the experience of a former Intel Capital investor. OVP Venture Partners hired John Hull from the company in 2004. Jim Huston, another Intel Capital investor focused on intellectual property acquisitions, joined Blueprint Ventures in 2004.

The formation of Altien comes as Oregon has started to heat up as an investment destination. VCs have invested $216 million in Oregon-based startups so far this year, according to Thomson Financial (publisher of PE Week). That’s a nearly 75% increase from the $124 million invested during the same period last year.

But Campbell is quick to dismiss that gain as a temporary increase rather than a fundamental change. Although Oregon has strong technologists, he points out that the state has not been able to get a substantive local investment community off the ground. “The Oregon business psychology comes out of farming,” he says. “You plant something and sit back and wait 40 years for it to grow.”