Last week I argued that Apple should consider taking some of its $12 billion in cash and starting a venture capital fund. The best example I can find of a corporate venture capital fund is that of Intel Capital, which has invested about $4 billion in startup companies over 15 years.
While some stakes have been more successful than others, today marked another milestone in Intel Capital’s history. I just noticed this report from the Associated Press concerning the initial public offering of Clearwire, a company developing WiMax technology, aka wireless broadband. One of its investors is none other than Intel Capital, which last year took a $600 million stake in the company. Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and David Perlmutter, an Intel senior vice president both sit on Clearwire’s board of directors. You can see the progress of Clearwire's stock here.
What does Intel want with Clearwire? It’s made a big bet on WiMax technology hoping that its wide adoption will fuel more demand for WiMax-ready notebooks, the same way that the popular adoption of Wi-Fi did with its Centrino chip platform for notebooks. Clearwire plans to build a nationwide wireless broadband network.
This is the kind of thing that I think at which Apple, being the visionary company that it is, could be very good. If I remember correctly Apple was way ahead of Intel in seeing the potential of Wi-Fi, having released its first Wi-Fi-based Airport products in 1999, at a time when Intel was still pushing HomeRF.
This may not be the best example. Apple is notably not among the members of the WiMax Forum and probably has other ideas. Apple view toward WiMax appears to be ambivalent. And it may be that given all the data-card activity among the wireless phone providers, that Intel is once again backing the wrong wireless horse.
Be that as it may, I still maintain that than an Apple VC fund could yield some very interesting results.