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|Born||1950 (age 65–66)
|Residence||United States of America|
|Education||M.S. in Electrical Engineering|
|Alma mater||University of Cincinnati, Delhi College of Engineering|
Vinod Dham (Gurmukhi: ਵਿਨੋਦ ਧਾਮ) is an inventor, entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He is popularly known as the Father of the Pentium chip, for his contribution to the development of highly successful Pentium processors from Intel. He is a mentor, advisor and investor; and sits on the boards of many companies including promising startups funded through his India-based fund – Indo US Venture Partners, where he is the founding Managing Director.
Vinod Dham’s accomplishment as the “Father of Pentium” and as an Indian-American technology pioneer from Silicon Valley, is being celebrated at a first-ever exhibition on South Asians in the National Museum of Natural History at the storied Smithsonian in Washington DC, highlighting Indian-Americans who have helped shape America.
Vinod Dham was born in 1950. His father was a member of the army civilian department who had moved from Rawalpindi, Punjab to India during the Partition of India. Dham did B.E. degree in electrical engineering from the prestigious Delhi College of Engineering (now known as Delhi Technological University) in 1971 at the age of 21. He has three brothers and a sister. At the age of 25, he left his family in New Delhi to get a graduate degree in the U.S., arriving with just $8 in his pocket. He is married to wife Sadhana and has two sons.
After completing his B.E. degree in electrical engineering (electronics engineering) from Delhi College of Engineering (now known as Delhi Technological University) in 1971, he joined a Delhi-based semiconductor company called Continental Devices as an engineer. In 1975, he left this job and went to US University of Cincinnati, in Cincinnati, Ohio US, to pursue an MS degree in electrical engineering solid state electronics. After completing his MS degree in 1977, he joined NCR Corporation at Dayton, Ohio, as an engineer, where he did cutting-edge work in developing advanced non-volatile memories. He then joined Intel, as an engineer, where he led the development of the world-famous Pentium processor. He is called the "Father of Pentium" for his role in the development of the Pentium processor. He is also one of the co-inventors of Intel’s first Flash memory technology (ETOX). He rose to the position of vice-president of microprocessor group at Intel.
He left Intel in 1995, and joined a startup NexGen, which was subsequently acquired by AMD. Dham played an instrumental role in the launch of K6 – the "Pentium killer" processor at rival AMD. He held vice president position of AMD's Computation Products Group. He then went on to lead a nascent startup, Silicon Spice in April 1998, which he redirected to build a VOIP Chip and later sold it to Broadcom in 2000. He then launched an incubator NewPath Ventures, where he co – founded companies with an objective of using India’s emerging talent in chip design for R&D. He is currently a Managing Director and founder of Indo US Venture Partners, an early stage India focused fund that he founded after NewPath. Dham has over the years been a Board member and an advisor to dozens of private and public companies.
In Feb 2015 Dham announced his return to entrepreneurship as the Co Founder and CEO of Acadgild, on online educational platform he co-founded along with India's storied entrepreneur duo - Krishnan Ganesh and Meena Ganesh of Tutor Vista fame. Acadgild aims to teach just about anybody, including a class 10 student, software programming that is relevant to today's rapidly evolving digital world. Unlike many existing online courses that rely on videos, Acadgild provides live mentoring and hands-on engagement for building real applications for its students. It will also include building two applications, thus preparing the students for job ready skills and a more effective way for their perspective employers to evaluate them.
As a young graduate in 1971 Dham worked for Continental Devices India Limited, Delhi, one of India’s only private silicon semiconductor start-ups at the time which collaborated with Teledyne Semiconductor in California. He was part of the early team that put together a facility in Delhi and worked there for four years. It wasn’t until he worked at this company that his love for semiconductors bloomed. He found it to be a very exciting field because it applied knowledge of physics, chemistry and mathematics he had learned as an engineer. Discovering he needed deeper understanding of the physics behind the behaviour of the semiconductor devices he left this job in 1975 and joined University of Cincinnati to pursue a master's degree in Electrical Engineering, where he specialised in Solid State Science. After completing his master's degree in 1977, he joined NCR Corporation based in Dayton, Ohio, a company known for its cash registers. Joining NCR was not a planned career move though. At the University of Cincinnati when NCR needed help, Dham was the only student in his class who had worked longest in semi conductors. His leading edge work on Non Volatile Memories helped NCR get a patent in 1985 on mixed dielectric process and nonvolatile memory device.
During a presentation of his work on Non-Volatile Memory for the NCR Microelectronics at an IEEE workshop in Monterey California, he was approached by Intel and joined the company in 1979 where he worked with the Non Volatile Memory team and was one of the co-inventors of Intel’s first flash memory (ETOX). He later moved to the microprocessor division where he honed his skills for leading the Pentium project by working on two earlier generations of microprocessors – Intel’s 386 and 486 in various capacities. In the 80s, PCs had become mainstream tools for productivity enhancement at the workplace. By the time he started the Pentium project, a large number of established and new players, including the AIM consortium (a consortium led by Apple, IBM and Motorola) an Advanced Computing Environment (ACE) consortium formed in 1991 and led by Compaq, Microsoft, DEC, and MIPS Technologies, Inc, and a consortium by Sun Microsystems (which comprised companies like Sun, Fujitsu, Philips, Tatung and Amdahl), using superior RISC (Reduced Instructions Based Computing) had all begun aggressively working on their big idea for the PC industry and these projects seriously threatened Intel’s dominance in the segment. Dham believes that Intel’s ability to “focus and execute” while maintaining full compatibility of application software with its previous generation microprocessors was the key reason for its success over dozens of these big competitors. His role as a senior executive and project leader of the Pentium chip was acknowledged world over. From the ‘Intel Inside’ brand building campaigns to delivering a top notch product the whole mix worked brilliantly for Intel. In a Business Week cover story on Intel’s new processors, Dham was quoted as the general manager of 586 processor group. (586 was the internal name for the project until it was named 'Pentium' at the launch). Pentium was aimed at large computers as well as PCs, so Intel engineers had to envision how it would fit in those various systems. The designers first visited every major customer and major software houses such as Borland, Lotus and Microsoft, to ask what those companies wanted. And the result was a list of 147 specific features – many ranked differently from what Intel expected. Doing this at front end, Dham said, more than paid for itself by avoiding most revisions in later stages. Dham was most pleased about the mindset change. Pre-586, Intel engineers got their kicks from intellectual joy of devising elegant or efficient solutions to circuit-design problems, regardless of their value to customers. Now, said Dham, engineers think like customers. (Ref: Business India 5 – 18 June 1995) In 1995, at the age of 45, after spending 16 years at Intel and reaching the top management of the company, Dham had a “mid-life crisis” and was itching to do something different. He believed if you live in Silicon Valley and have not experienced life as an entrepreneur in a world of startups, you have missed out on a very exciting learning experience.
When Dham had joined Intel, it was then a mere $663 million revenue company. By the time he left in 1995, Intel's revenues had soared to $16.2 billion. Dham said he was a keen observer of how Andy Grove built the strategy and the organisation for Intel’s success in the microprocessor business. At Intel, Dham made a decision to work on processors when he decided to leave R & D. By the time Dham quit Intel, his achievements reached a great prominence. It was also the time when the entrepreneurial revolution in Silicon Valley was at its peak. He came across a company called NexGen, a boutique processor design company that was about eight years old, and joined the company as its chief operating officer. Nexgen was the only company that was developing Intel compatible microprocessors at the time. The design team at NexGen proved itself to be very capable, but the company did not have a chip that was bus-compatible with the Pentium, an important functionality that was needed to fit in the PC industry dominated by Intel. Dham, with his wide-ranging Intel experience, implemented changes in NexGen's strategy. Knowing that NexGen had to license the Intellectual property (IP) that would piggyback on the infrastructure that had already been created by the rest of the PC industry, and needed access to manufacturing capabilities and advanced technology by partnering with established players for building its chips competitively with Intel’s.
While looking for the right partner for Nexgen, he discovered that AMD’s (Advance Micro Devices was Intel’s main competitor in the computer hardware industry) microprocessor product, called K5, had failed to deliver on its promise. (K5 was positioned to be AMD’s response to Intel’s Pentium Processor). Dham convinced the NexGen management to explore what appeared to be a perfect synergy for merging the two companies - NexGen had a product but no factories and process technology, AMD had a factory and advanced technology but no product. His insights proved right and AMD acquired NexGen’s product and process technology for a tidy sum of U.S. $857 million. AMD’s next product, K6, was built using NexGen’s core technology. For a short while, it was the fastest microprocessor in the world. It was the first time ever anybody beat Intel at its own speed game. The success of K6 was critical from one more angle – microprocessors were pricey and that meant PCs had to be sold for over U.S. $1500. AMD under his leadership of the microprocessor business priced K6 to create a PC below $1000. This positioning forced Intel to respond initially with a truncated Pentium under the brand name Celeron. Of course, today desktop computers are priced at less than U.S. $300, but, AMD’s ability to give relevant competition to Intel and create a sub $1000 PC played a key role in creating a sub $1000 category for the first time. After spending a year at AMD post-acquisition, Dham joined another startup in April 1998 – Silicon Spice as its President and CEO.
Dham, who had made a career out of microprocessors, was no longer interested in just chips, which form the guts and brains of personal computers. Rather, he was preaching a new mantra: communications processors. "The microprocessor business had become less interesting business to me," said Dham. In his opinion, the Internet was the mother of all killer applications, which could utilise most computing power if there were no connectivity bottleneck. Anyone who could help unclog this bottleneck, would hold the key to a multibillion-dollar bounty. "The personal computer was designed for computing, and not for communication. The microprocessor has gone beyond its use," he said. In other words, the hardware is far ahead of the current computing requirements" said Dham. With demand for communications-related chips then growing at 20% per annum, Dham and Silicon Spice's three MIT grad co-founders wanted a piece of the pie. Silicon Spice raised more than $34 million in venture capital from top-drawer firms such as New Enterprise Associates and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. Silicon Spice was initially experimenting using an innovative reconfigurable technology to design chips. It turned out that the chips designed in this fashion lacked the necessary performance and cost to be of much commercial use. Meanwhile, Dham learnt from dealing with several customers that there was an emerging need for developing chips that could effectively transfer voice over the Internet. Dham explains, “The Internet protocol was being used mainly for data and delivering voice over the Internet, which was designed primarily for data transfer and was a tricky problem in terms of technology.” Dham redirected the company to build this new chip to support VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), among the first in the world at the time. Silicon Spice's technology was promising. In a little over two years (in August, 2000), Dham sold Silicon Spice to Broadcom for a whopping US$1.2 billion in an all-stock deal. The deal was Broadcom’s largest ever (at the time of acquisition) and its seventh acquisition in the year 2000. Broadcom's former CEO Henry Nicholas had said Silicon Spice's architecture for communications processors, which enables banks of chips to be replaced with a single piece of silicon, is Broadcom's most strategic buy yet and opens a "multibillion-dollar" opportunity. "This is kind of the holy grail of carrier-class communication equipment," Nicholas said. "What Silicon Spice has created is a whole new computational element of the same significance of what the microprocessor was to the PC." “One of the biggest lessons I learnt was that it always helps to start defining your product with very early involvement with customers,” said Dham. (Ref: Smart CEO 15 Jan 2011)
Mentor and venture capitalist
In December 2001, Dham made a trip to India where he met several businesses. He was impressed by the success of India’s information technology (IT) services industry based on off shoring of US software development to India and was wondering what it would take to recreate a similar US – India model for hardware and chip design off shoring to India. With seed capital from other venture capitalists in April 2002 he co-founded an incubator New Path Ventures. It invested in Chip and System design companies like Telsima (WiMAX chips for broadband), Montalvo Systems (low-power chips) and In Silica (chips for multimedia and digital printing processors) and Nevis (secure networking) with development teams in India for markets in U.S. The timing was right, with Silicon Valley looking at reducing expenditure in the chip development space. Dham, with his partner, was extremely hands on in helping these companies in their day-to-day operations. However the experience highlighted that with so much focus on software, India had not yet developed the critical mass of skills for chip design work and speciality software expertise to support the 'offshoring' model. These start ups were subsequently acquired. Having learnt that the opportunities for venture backed startups in India will likely revolve more around services required to meet the needs of India’s growing consumer class, Dham subsequently co-founded NEA-IndoUS Ventures a cross border India focused fund in 2006 with New Enterprise Associates (NEA). The firm was later re-branded IndoUS Venture Partners. Currently, Dham runs IUVP with his two Bengaluru based investment partners. IUVP’s focus has been on investing in Indian companies across sectors including mobile technology, knowledge process outsourcing, Internet, education and healthcare. Over the past four years, IndoUS Venture has invested in over two dozen companies. Dham also believes that the model of outsourcing that is fairly large scale in IT services and software can be recreated in other value added knowledge sectors like finance, education, healthcare and legal.
Dham and his wife are donors to many causes in the US and India. He has been a trustee of American India Foundation (AIF) since 2001 along with many other noted luminaries. Former President Bill Clinton serves as the honorary Chair. In July 2006 he was named to the Board of Directors and was appointed Chair of the Digital Equalizer Program (DE) with a mission to provide underprivileged children in India with the opportunity to enhance their learning through the use of digital technology in a scalable and sustainable manner. As Chair of the DE Program, he led the program’s strategic direction and growth. He has been actively involved in the fund-raising and was awarded the Visionary Award for his DE work by Montek Singh Ahluwalia in 2010.
Dham also donated to and is involved with TeachAIDS where an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the fields of education, public health, communications and medicine have been working together to develop pedagogically grounded, research-based, rich-media applications to promote HIV/AIDS prevention despite numerous social and cultural barriers. Dham and his wife Sadhana, who is also on the Board of Advisors, have also been long-time supporters of Home of Hope, a charity with a mission to provide the basic necessities of life to orphans and underprivileged children in India.
In 1993 Dham was named one of the top 25 executives in the US computer industry. In 1999 he was named one of the top 100 most influential Asian Americans of the decade. In 2000, he was appointed to serve on the President’s advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by President Clinton.
In 1 Jan' India’s premier magazine India Today listed Dham among the Global Indian Achievers. Dham said the survival instinct is the critical factor underlying the success of Indians in Silicon Valley.
Dham was profiled at the Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas in 2007, organised by the Ministry of Overseas Affairs of the government of India; a high recognition for Global Indian Luminaries including Amar Bose, Indra Nooyi, Vinod Khosla, Arun Sarin, Lakshmi Mittal.
He was profiled by India Abroad in 7 June’ among 50 Most Influential Indian Americans.
Scribd profiled him amongst great Indians of this century and contributing today.
Dham was awarded the NRI Achievement Award at the NRI Global Summit in Oct 2009 by the NRI institute, a New Delhi-based nonprofit. The NRI Institute has a nearly 30-year history of recognizing Pravasi (non-resident) such as Sam Pitroda, chairman of India's National Knowledge Commission, Lord Swaraj Paul, British parliamentarian and founder of Caparo Group, and Baron Karan Bilimoria of Cobra Beer.
Dham was profiled among the first and notable Indian American achievers by the Asian Pacific American Program established HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project, which will chronicle the story of immigrants from India and their descendants in America
On 22 April 2011, Dham was given People Choice Award and Special Jury Award in the category of Science and technology by Times of India Group’s ‘Light of India Awards’; recognizing Indian achievers abroad.
On 13 November 2014, Dham was honored with 'Lifetime Accomplishments Award' by VC Taskforce, a Silicon Valley-based organization boasting 6000 members dedicated to promoting innovation through Venture Community.
- "The best thing that happened to me was joining Intel and the best thing that happened to me was leaving Intel."
- “Electrons move at the same speed whether at Intel or AMD.”
- “You know, if you are here in Silicon Valley 10 to 15 years and you have not stepped out and done a startup, there's something wrong with you.”
- “Speed was God for us when we designed Pentium. All we did was to build the fastest BMW or Lamborghini equivalent of a chip, and you were a hero. Now, its more like building an efficient Prius or a Nano. It may not go very fast but consumes less power. A total paradigm shift has occurred in the chip industry. It is evident with the ARM chips, being used to build new devices. These chips may not run as fast but they can run your iPad or netbook for weeks. That wasn't the case in the 80s and 90s.”
- “To stay globally competitive the nation must do better at steering its youth toward engineering careers”. Vinod Dham is among a growing number of technology executives warning that the U.S. faces an engineer shortage.
- “More and more, Sand Hill Road (a key location for VCs in Silicon Valley) money is moving to India. It’s clear India’s time has come.”
- Dham on cell phones usage and its future: “There is nothing except maybe Excel spreadsheets that you can’t do on a cell phone. You can do mails, SMS, MMS. You can do photo sharing. You can find the nearest restaurant. You can’t do the latter on a laptop. It’s a far richer medium. You will see a lot of big screens in the home and a cell phone won’t compete with that. But the ubiquitous device that you won’t leave home without is the cell phone. In India, when they’re fishing, they call back and say how many pounds of fish they caught and when they will be back. That creates a real-time market with buyers.”
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