With venture capital lagging and a new report warning Silicon Valley will limp out of the recession, Intel plans a $3.5 billion infusion for tech start-ups.
Intel CEO Paul Otellini announced the two-pronged effort during a speech Tuesday at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
First, the Santa Clara, California-based semiconductor giant -- along with 24 venture-capital firms it's partnering with as part of what's been dubbed the Invest in America Alliance -- will funnel $3.5 billion into U.S. companies developing "clean" technology, information technology and biotech. (Intel's venture capital arm, Intel Capital, will form a $200 million fund as part of the effort.)
Intel also announced that it and 16 other tech companies, including Cisco Systems, eBay, Microsoft, and Google, will hire at least 10,500 US tech college grads by year's end. Some of the companies will be hiring double the number they did in 2009.
"All my life I have believed that America's best years are still ahead of it. If we focus, invest and work hard, that belief will hold true," Otellini said in his talk. "Strong, enduring economies grow out of a culture of investment and a commitment to innovation. We simply must have a clear, consistent strategy to promote innovation, investment and start-up companies.
The company released no other details about the initiative other than to say it will help create jobs in newer industries such as molecular diagnostics, bioinformatics, electric vehicle ecosystem and wireless infrastructure. It announced no specific investments.
Critics are dismissing the announcement as not much more than a PR stunt for Intel, since U.S. venture capital firms already invest 70 percent of their money in domestic start-ups and the $3.5 billion isn't a new capital initiative. It's dollars that would likely have been invested anyway. But other VC firms and corporations are expected to join the effort -- good news for the economy, and for research and development.
In his speech, Otellini also appealed to business and government to make U.S. competitiveness a priority. He cited a 2009 study of how much 40 countries were doing to make themselves more innovative. The U.S. ranked last.
"Other countries have focused on investing in innovation, creating national policies to build digital infrastructure, and have moved quickly to embrace sustainable energy," he said. "We are seeing this not just in India and China, but in Finland, Korea, Japan, the Netherlands, and many other places. All this activity on their part is making them far more potent competitors in the next phase of the global economy."
He called for a "clear, enduring strategy to promote innovation, investment and start-up companies" – specifically, stemming the decline in research and development tax credits, more certainty around healthcare and energy costs, and less stringent controls on well-educated immigrants.
Otellini's speech came on the same day the company revealed in Securities and Exchange Commission filings that it was a victim of hackers at the same time as Operation Aurora, the high-profile orchestrated attack on Google and some 30 other companies. It said digital thieves try to break in regularly, and sometimes succeed.
"One recent and sophisticated incident occurred in January 2010 around the same time as the recently publicized security incident reported by Google," Intel wrote in its annual 10-K report, the summary of the company's performance.