Venture capitalist Peter C. Wendell (MBA '76) and his partners receive some 2,500 requests to back new entrepreneurial startups each year. In selecting the handful of seedlings he believes have the potential to flower into world-changing success stories, he looks for "great people chasing big opportunities." The key to any new venture, Wendell explains, is usually the quality of the people driving it.
In 1982 Wendell cofounded Sierra Ventures with what then felt to him like a huge sum: $16 million. Today Sierra has almost a half billion dollars in committed capital and an enviable record of home runs, including Intuit (founded by Wendell's HBS classmate Scott Cook), StrataCom, Heartport, and other technology-oriented startups.
A member of the California Research Center's steering committee and a proud father of six, Wendell asserts that he couldn't do the job he does anywhere but Silicon Valley. The Valley is unique, he says, because it is a magnet for intellectual talent (including graduates of Stanford, where he teaches a course on entrepreneurship and venture capital), has a concentration of large companies that spawn technical and managerial talent, and benefits from a strong infrastructure of capital and advisory talent.
"You have this magic chemist's brew of people, ideas, capital, and hard work that you stir in a beaker and presto," he says, gesturing toward the consolidation of firms that surround Sierra's headquarters on Sand Hill Road. "There's nothing like it in the world."