By Justin Hibbard One of Silicon Valley's premier venture-capital firms has pulled off a recruiting coup. Bill Joy, co-founder and former chief scientist at Sun Microsystems (SUNW), has joined Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as a partner. Widely recognized as one of tech's leading visionaries, Joy brings a deep scientific background at a time when venture capitalists are seeking opportunities in several emerging fields of research.
Increasingly, VCs are evaluating business plans for an array of ideas beyond traditional information technology. "It's not a single theme, like dot-com, dominating all others," Joy said in a phone interview with BusinessWeek Online. In addition to VC staples like Internet and semiconductor startups, entrepreneurs are seeking funding for materials science, alternative energy, and life sciences related to the mapping of the human genome. Said Joy: "It's much more diverse than it would have been five years ago."
QUICK WORKER. Joy has followed recent developments in life sciences and nanotechnology with a mixture of interest and caution. In 2001 he wrote a lengthy essay for Wired magazine that explored the ethical dilemmas raised by new fields like genetic engineering and miniature robotics. But he supports responsible applications of science. "The moral equivalent of the semiconductor revolution is now the ability to do nanoscale materials," he says. Since starting at Kleiner Perkins two weeks ago, Joy has already heard three presentations from entrepreneurs on materials and energy.
Though Joy has spent most of his career as a computer scientist, he's no newcomer to venture capital. At Sun, he helped start the corporate-venture investment group.
After leaving Sun in 2003, he focused on HighBAR Ventures, a VC partnership he formed with fellow Sun alumni Andreas Bechtolsheim and Roy Sardina. The trio made at least one hit investment: BrightMail, an e-mail security company bought last year by Symantec (SYMC) for $370 million.
NETSCAPE CONNECTION. Joy's relationship with Kleiner Perkins stretches back to 1982, when the firm provided startup funding for Sun. Vinod Khosla, who along with Joy was one of Sun's co-founders, is a longtime partner at Kleiner Perkins. Over the years, Joy has referred many entrepreneurs and investing themes to Kleiner Perkins, including a historic tip during the early 1990s. "I think [Kleiner Perkins managing partner] John Doerr was aware of the Web browser as a huge thing because [Sun Microsystems Chief Science Officer] John Gage and I had told him about it," Joy says. Doerr went on to fund pioneering browser maker Netscape.
After working closely with the firm on several recent investments, which he declined to discuss, Joy began talking with Doerr about signing on at Kleiner Perkins last fall. He joined the firm two weeks ago as partner, a title that places him on the middle rung of Kleiner Perkins' three-tier structure, above junior-level associates and below managing partners. Upon raising its 11th fund last year, the firm announced that four managing partners were going part-time, creating an opening that Joy will partly fill.
Historically, the firm's turnover has been low, so expect Joy to stick around for awhile. Hibbard is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau