02 Funding
03 Career
05 Talent
13 May 2024Martin SFP Bryant for Infinity

Meet Joseph Raffa, first Executive in Residence for our Infinity Programme

As quantum technology matures from the lab into the beginnings of an industry, it needs an increasing number of experts from outside the field to get involved.

The Dutch quantum startup ecosystem is new. Four years ago it didn’t even exist. But now the Netherlands is home to fast-growing quantum scaleups and many promising startups in the field.

 That’s why we’re starting to bring skilled founders, operators, and investors to Infinity to help our startups grow. They will be our Executives in Residence.

EIRs will join the Infinity support team for three to six months, to work directly with our quantum founders in the programme.

We are beginning with someone who has incredible experience in areas that are crucial for our growing startup community to get right. These include how to operate boards, and hiring for key executive, senior technical, and board roles.

Given the early stage of the ecosystem, these skills aren’t common in the Netherlands, so we’ve gone further afield. 

We’re delighted to welcome Joseph Raffa as our first Executive in Residence for the Infinity programme. 

His long and varied career in Silicon Valley, and specifically working with scaling deep tech university spinouts, makes him an ideal strategic advisor for the early-stage quantum startups we work with. He is also helping connect the teams to the right people and engaging with the broader Dutch quantum ecosystem.

Joseph will be working with some of our later-stage companies on strategic topics, helping them push their discussions and plans to the next level.

Beginning at HP

Joseph studied physics and electrical engineering at university, before exploring computer science as part of his Master’s degree at Stanford.

Inspired by the work of Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple, he was drawn to the tech industry, where he began his career at Hewlett Packard in the 1980s.

At HP, he worked as a hardware designer. But although he was part of a tech giant, his experience was more startup-like than you might expect.

 “I started in a very small business unit in Colorado. It was like a mid-stage startup incubated inside of Hewlett Packard and very much had a startup dynamic,” he says.

 “I had a chance to learn good management and how to collaborate in a fast-moving business. It was really a great learning experience for a young engineer, and for someone who ultimately aspired to be in a leadership role.”

From semiconductors to digital cameras

From there, his career took him to chip design software company Synopsis, which turned out to have a critical role in today's tech world.

“Our technology enabled the emergence of TSMC, which was a startup at the time; now they are the largest semiconductor manufacturers in the world. Because our software decoupled design from manufacturing, it enabled designers of high-speed chips to switch production to a factory in Taiwan.”

Then Joseph entered the startup world when he was recruited as the CEO of a Japanese startup headquartered in Silicon Valley.

NuCORE Technology made chips that helped enable the rise of digital cameras, and was eventually acquired by Taiwanese semiconductor giant MediaTek.

“Sometimes the founders are also excellent CEOs. Every situation is unique; you have to look at every situation with fresh eyes.”

Venture capital and university spinouts

Over time, Joseph transitioned into venture capital, as a venture partner at a firm called Adams Capital. In addition to making investments, the role required getting hands on with the businesses they invested in.

This could sometimes be an intense experience. For example, he spent four months shaping up a portfolio company, acting as interim CEO. After making staffing changes and hiring a new CTO and CEO, the company was set for the future.

He also had his first experience with helping university spinouts to successful exits while at Adams Capital. He spun a deep tech startup out of UCLA and relocated them to the San Francisco Bay Area. Eventually, the startup was acquired by semiconductor giant Xilinx, which itself was later acquired by AMD.

It also introduced him to a common problem for spinouts - are the people who developed the core technology in an academic environment also the best people to lead it commercially?

“The founder was experienced and mature enough to say ‘that's not the person I want to be, I'm going to let someone else run the company’. That doesn't always happen. 

“Sometimes the founders are also excellent CEOs. Every situation is unique; you have to look at every situation with fresh eyes.”

IBM, quantum tech, and back to VC

After a number of other VC and M&A jobs, Joseph then took a role at IBM. This saw him both investigate spinning internal research out as startups, and assessing startups IBM might benefit from acquiring. 

This included AI startups a few years before AI-specific chip design companies would become hot property. And IBM was also very interested in quantum computing, even a decade ago.

“They realised there was no real infrastructure around quantum computing, no ecosystem, and they thought it would be important for IBM to start to develop a network and business relationships with startups that were doing something complementary to what it was doing,” Joseph says.

With a background that blended physics and startups, Joseph was a perfect fit for this.

“I met all the quantum computing CEOs and investors around the world, including in Europe, and started building relationships to figure out what kind of relationships these companies could have with IBM.”

This deep dive into the quantum computing world, coupled with his deep-tech background and his US network, made Joseph a perfect fit to advise Finnish quantum computing company IQM in its early days, after he left IBM. 

“I helped with everything from fundraising, to product strategy, to company strategy, to mergers and acquisitions. It varied every quarter because all that stuff was in my background. As they developed as a company they needed help where they didn't have an internal executive or capability yet.”

This work attracted the attention of London-based tech investor Foresight Group, who brought him in as an investing venture partner, where he still works today from his Californian base.

“The Netherlands is doing an excellent job in creating a quantum infrastructure, and has been doing it for more than 10 years. It’s respected around the world for doing this.”

To Infinity and beyond

Now he’s expanding his activity in Europe by working with us at Infinity.

“I like working with the best and brightest people in the world. I like being around organizations that are pursuing excellence,” he says. 

“The Netherlands is doing an excellent job in creating a quantum infrastructure, and has been doing it for more than 10 years. It’s respected around the world for doing this.” 

Exactly how he’ll help each company will vary. 

“I'm coming with an open mind, trying to learn about the company and then try to be creative in terms of how I engage with them to help them.”

But however he helps them, with such a wealth of experience to draw on, Infinity startups will certainly get a lot of value out of their time with Joseph.

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