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Olympus Fosters Partnership Development

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2002
Brent D. Johnson

While companies like Lucent Technologies, Compaq Computer, Enron, Global Crossing and a host of others are either scaling back or abandoning their venture capital holdings, Olympus Integrated Technologies America Inc. in San Jose, Calif., has announced the creation of a partnership development group. Could it be that it knows something the others don't?

Lawrence C. Wang, vice president of the group, said that, before the market downturn, many of the companies of interest were being actively pursued, causing overvaluation. He thinks that those same companies will be more reasonably valuated now that the economy is somewhat more grounded.

Wang explained that the Japanese corporate mentality takes the long-range view of things. (As legend has it, Sony has a 100-year business plan.) Patience, he said, is a key virtue. The Japanese believe that, if they have the right technology, it is worth waiting for the market to develop rather than looking for the short-term payoff.

The group's charter is to find companies with new technology and to make available Olympus' expertise in components, subsystems, volume manufacturing, R&D and distribution. "We don't just want to sit in on the quarterly board meetings," Wang said. The primary objective is to engage companies on many levels and to look upon investment as another one of the resources that the company can provide while expanding its business into new markets.

In an example of a successful partnership, the company supplied a core optical scanning engine for use in a bar-code scanning system made by Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y., for Federal Express. The collaborating companies set up a joint-venture distributor in Asia called Olympus Symbol, which is now one of the leading distributors of optical scanning devices in Asia and a wholly owned subsidiary of Symbol. Olympus acted as OEM supplier and joint-venture distribution partner.

Olympus has several of these partnerships in place and is talking with six other companies in San Diego, San Jose and Colorado. It is also supplying optical switch technology to a company that is yet to be announced. Wang believes that his group can significantly reduce the risk of these ventures by helping the companies achieve mass market acceptance.

What are the opportunities in photonics that Wang thinks deserve more attention from investors?
He says that, in the long term, the optical communications market is going to be a key growth area. His company is particularly interested in optical switching and wireless because it can provide very fine precision optical assemblies for these types of devices. "It's a question of timing. We know it's going to happen sometime."

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