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Entrepreneurship and the Rise of Silicon Valley: The Career of Robert Noyce, 1956-1990
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Enterprise & Society 4.4 (2003) 586-591

The Career of Robert Noyce, 1956-1990

Leslie Berlin

My premise in this dissertation is that the career of Robert Noyce can illuminate the relationship between technical entrepreneurship and the rise of the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley, California. Noyce invented the first practical integrated circuit, the precursor to the microprocessors that lie at the heart of modern electronics. He cofounded Silicon Valley's first successful semiconductor company, Fairchild Semiconductor, in 1957, as well as the industry's most powerful firm, Intel. Noyce both cofounded and served as a prominent spokesman for the industry's most effective lobbying organization, the Semiconductor Industry Association. His successful entrepreneurial career inspired hundreds of Silicon Valley residents to start their own high-tech companies. For the last two years of his life, Noyce served as the first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SEMATECH, a billion-dollar manufacturing research consortium with membership that included fourteen semiconductor firms and the Department of Defense.

I draw on twenty-five oral history interviews with Noyce's contemporaries and on four years of research in a half-dozen corporate and university archives. I explore four major themes: the roles of apprenticeship and invention in high-tech entrepreneurship, the uneasy relationship between the U.S. government and American semiconductor entrepreneurs, the gap between the myth and reality of high-technology entrepreneurial success, and the managerial limits of entrepreneurial leadership.

In "Entrepreneurship and the Rise of Silicon Valley," I focus on Noyce while recognizing the obvious truths that he alone did not make the semiconductor industry and that the industry in turn is not solely responsible for the creation of Silicon Valley. Instead, I demonstrate that both the semiconductor industry and Silicon Valley are products of a complex and mutually reinforcing interplay of entrepreneurship, technology, business, money, politics, and culture, and that Robert Noyce's career both catalyzed and reflected critical developments in each of these areas.

Structure

I devote one chapter to each of the following: technical apprenticeship, invention, management, strategy, government, culture, and statesmanship. I place Noyce's work, the focal point of each chapter, in the larger contexts of history and technological and industrial development. In "Interconnections," I provide the narrative framework, moving Noyce and his contemporaries from one setting to the next.

Shockley Labs, where Noyce spent eighteen months beginning in early 1956, is the subject of chapter 1, "Apprenticeship." William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, launched his company in 1956 with an impressive technical plan to build silicon transistors. His scientific brilliance attracted many of the nation's brightest young electronics minds, including Noyce, who was one of the first hired. Shockley's managerial ineptitude and decision to change the company's mission drove his employees away, but Shockley taught the young men who worked for him the skills they needed to build transistors. In Noyce, he nurtured an additional talent: peer leadership.

In "Interconnection: From Shockley Labs to Fairchild Semiconductor," I explore the decision by a group of seven of Shockley's employees to start their own transistor company in the summer of 1957, a time when transistor sales were growing industry-wide at a rate of better than 70 percent per year. Noyce joined this group before its members left Shockley, and he soon became the leader and a key attraction for financial backers. I investigate how the group secured funding at a time before institutionalized venture capital. I also delineate the character of Fairchild Camera and Instrument, the firm that ultimately backed the eight refugees from Shockley. On September 9, 1957, the group of eight founded Fairchild Semiconductor, a division of Fairchild Camera and Instrument. This was Noyce's first experience with entrepreneurship.

During his tenure as head of research and development (R&D) at Fairchild Semiconductor, Noyce patented an idea for a monolithic integrated circuit, a single slice of silicon into which have been built all the necessary components to perform an electronic function. Noyce's multifaceted work on the early integrated circuit, a fundamental building block of the modern electronics industry, is the subject of chapter 2, "Invention." Noyce's invention of the integrated circuit is usually treated as a technological phenomenon, which...



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