Wendell Brooks, senior vice president of Intel Corporation and president of Intel Capital, returned to Ann Arbor and his alma mater on May 15 to deliver an important message at the 2018 Michigan Growth Capital Symposium.
“It’s the Midwest Big Ten schools that are filling the engineering talent [pool] in Silicon Valley,” Brooks told his audience of entrepreneurs, startup founders and venture investors. “We’ve got to pull and keep that talent base here in the Midwest. We’ve got to work with other universities and state legislatures to create a self-fulfilling cycle, a pool of talent and opportunities for engineers to stay here.”
Demand is going to follow capital, advice and talent, according to Brooks. “We at Intel Capital are trying to put money back through universities to work in earlier stage opportunities,” he explained. “We’re trying to attack the venture capital model differently than either the true financial VCs or the other corporate VCs. We’re going to work with you.”
As the head of Intel Capital, Brooks leads equity investments in innovative technology startups and companies worldwide in support of Intel’s strategic objectives. He reported that Intel Capital makes $400 million in venture-level investments annually and manages a portfolio of 350 startup companies. Brooks also heads Intel’s New Technology Group, where he is responsible for incubating and developing emerging growth businesses, ranging from drones to machine learning to wearables.
“I have the best job in all of Silicon Valley,” Brooks said. “Everything at Intel that’s growing, cool and innovative comes through my group.” He received his bachelor’s degree in industrial and operations engineering from the U-M College of Engineering in 1987 and spent 23 years in the investment banking industry before joining Intel.
Brooks said there are “two great lessons when we look at opportunities to make venture investments.” First and foremost, he explained: “When you find a CEO or founder you believe in, give them what they need and bet on that. That’s the most important central variable. It’s not the technology. It’s the management team and the founders. If you find the right ones, you can’t go wrong.”
Second, Brooks continued, Intel, like any big corporation, is good at perfecting technology, but not as good at talking to customers or understanding what the route to market is going to be. “What we’re trying to do at Intel Capital is put our investments together with our customers at Intel and let the portfolio company identify and provide what the customer wants,” he remarked. “If you have a route to market and a revenue model you’re aiming for, you’re a lot better off.”
Brooks estimated that 60 percent of Intel Capital’s investments lose money ─ not because there is a problem with the technology but because they were beaten to market by a competitor. “Our philosophy is that if we can accelerate by three months, by six months the route to market for our portfolio companies, we’re going to win,” he added.