Q&A with Andrew Byrnes, VC director, Micron Ventures

Andrew Byrnes is director of venture capital at Micron Ventures, the corporate venturing unit of US-headquartered computer memory and data storage developer Micron Technology, where he has been for more than three years.

1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you’ve been doing it?

I’m director of venture capital at Micron Ventures, leading investments in early-stage technology startups for Micron Technologies. Been here for about [three] years (started at the same time as VC senior director Gayathri Radhakrishnan). Before Micron Ventures, I was with one of the top early-stage AI venture funds, Comet Labs, where I led the investment team. Lenovo was the sole LP. Did that for about two years before moving to Micron, but still manage the portfolio.

2. What attracted you to CVC?

It wasn’t really CVC, but the opportunity with Micron specifically to a) build something new (this is Micron’s first-ever structured venture fund), and b) to collaborate with top engineering talent to drill deep into emerging technology stacks to build better and stronger investment theses. Deep tech investing is hard, and it’s good to have an army of world-class talent where you can collaborate and explore.

3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?

Getting hard stuff done and building an innovative mindset with the Micron team members. One of the interesting challenges faced by all corporate entities is the tendency to sit back on our laurels (that is, stay focused on proven business models and IP) rather than explore new concepts. Through our work on the fund, and with management support, I’m seeing in real-time a transition in the mindset of Micron engineers to wanting to collaborate with startups. It’s exciting to see! Note: I’ve helped build the fund from scratch and with a small team and in less than three years we’ve outperformed our peers on both deal velocity and MOIC. This is driven by our investments in a few unicorns (SambaNova and Volocopter).

4. What have been your biggest challenges?

Getting hard stuff done and building an innovative mindset with my Micron team members! By hard stuff, I mean new innovations with intense engineering challenges. Being a resource for pulling external innovation inside a 40,000-person company, most of which are engineers, is a path wrought with danger and conflicts of interest. It hasn’t been easy, but again we’ve been able to help build this muscle inside Micron and we’re going to flex it more.

5. What’s your main professional ambition for the future?

Leave the world a better place than I found it. Everything else is noise.

6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

Eliminate personal biases and be willing to dream. I’m always fighting with myself and the knowledge I gain as a Micron employee – learning with my peers – to not discount innovation because I think I know it. The best startups usually start as really stupid ideas… so stupid a lot of CVCs might not be able to see beyond the lunacy to the greater value.

7. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

Lived life hard and always gravitated toward the weird. In reverse chronological order, before CVC I was:

  • a VC
  • a startup founder
  • a materials science and engineering student (Go Tres!)
  • a high school chemistry/English/geometry teacher
  • a project manager and project finance lead for utility-scale wind and solar developments in the US and Mexico
  • an author/poet/drifter
  • a sushi roller in a nightclub in Honolulu
  • a bellman in fancy hotels in Boston and Telluride. These are my best stories.