An Atlanta native and fifth-generation Georgian, Mr. Fleming began his career as an Associate Member of Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1979 while still a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. While at Bell Labs, he published some of the first experimental data regarding single-mode optical fiber splicing. He also pioneered the use of 3D graphics to analyze viscoelasticity of various polymer compounds used in optical fiber and copper cables. These graphical analysis programs, run on an early Cray-1 supercomputer, were used for years afterwards in Western Electric factories.
After graduating from Georgia Tech in 1983 with a 4.0 average in theoretical physics (valedictorian, summa cum laude), Stephen joined Northern Telecom, which was then one of the leading optical fiber manufacturers in the world. He began work as a field engineer for the optical cable division, installing and teaching splicing techniques for some of the first large-scale single-mode fiber installations in the world. He later moved into transmission systems, where he introduced the first 135 Mb/s, 565 Mb/s, and small-footprint DS3 multiplexers to the U.S. market.
In 1986, Mr. Fleming was recruited to join a new division of Northern Telecom, focusing on the nascent broadband marketplace. This move involved a promotion from engineering into product management, where he was responsible for negotiating product features and schedules with marketing, design engineering, and manufacturing (including a third-party OEM arrangement with Tellabs). After two years, Stephen accepted an opportunity to work with LICOM, a venture-funded startup in the Dulles Corridor outside Washington, D.C.
LICOM raised $22 million of venture capital from a top-tier syndicate (Warburg Pincus, Welsh Carson, and Oak) and built an award-winning fiber optic multiplexer for the telco carrier marketplace. Unfortunately, a standards shift from SYNTRAN to SONET made the product unattractive to telcos. As VP of Product Management and as acting VP of Marketing, Stephen led an effort to reposition the product for private corporate networks. This repositioning was successful, and LICOM was acquired in 1989 by a manufacturer of T1 multiplexing equipment.
After a transition period, Mr. Fleming returned to Northern Telecom as a director in the Eastern Sales Region. In this role, he was responsible for introducing Nortel’s new line of SONET equipment to the Federal government and to Bell Atlantic. After two years, he was asked to relocate to U.S. headquarters in Nashville as Director of Strategic Marketing for all of Nortel’s broadband products.
In addition to supporting existing product lines, Stephen took the initiative to create an “intrapreneurial” startup focused on ADSL and cablemodems. Both product lines were launched successfully after Mr. Fleming’s promotion to Associate VP of Marketing for Broadband Access. The cablemodem and cable telephony products have since migrated to Arris (a joint venture between Nortel and Antec), where they produced over a billion dollars of revenue in less than six years.
In 1994, Mr. Fleming was approached by the founder of Alliance Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm headquartered in Atlanta. The founder had a very successful background in biotech investing, but Atlanta and the Southeast were more focused on telecommunications, software, and the beginnings of the commercial Internet. Stephen joined ATV as its second general partner in early 1995. He helped complete fundraising for ATV-I (which closed at $35 million under management), and was instrumental in raising ATV-II ($75 million in 1998) and ATV-III ($150 million in 2000).
While at ATV, Mr. Fleming made 18 investments, of which four led to successful IPOs while six more were acquired. Four were written off. At this writing, four are still private and are profitable or moving towards profitability. Mr. Fleming was personally responsible for investing $65 million over eight years, returning an IRR of 47% net of all fees and expenses.
Mr. Fleming’s career at ATV included 14 board seats at companies building wireless equipment, telecommunications systems, semiconductors, enterprise software, and Internet services. He also was very active in the Atlanta technology community, where he launched and hosted a startup showcase series for angel and VC investors. He became deeply involved in the state of Georgia’s public policy debates concerning high technology, and served on the board of directors for the Georgia Center for Advanced Telecommunications Technology. Stephen also continued his close relationship with Georgia Tech, endowing a professorship and serving on advisory boards for the College of Computing and the College of Management.
Stephen left ATV in early 2002. In 2002 and 2003, he focused on consulting work and personal angel investments, including XCOR Aerospace and other space-related startups. He also accepted a part-time position as an advisor to the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech. In the fall of 2003, Mr. Fleming spent a semester of teaching MGT 6165, New Venture Creation, in Georgia Tech’s MBA program. He continues to periodically teach classes in several departments at Georgia Tech.
In mid-2003, Stephen helped organize Seraph Group as a founding member of the investment committee. Seraph Group is an early-stage venture capital firm that is comprised of investors who are successful business leaders and entrepreneurs. Stephen currently represents Seraph as a board member or observer for three investments.
In March 2004, based on his work in the ‘alt.space’ community, Mr. Fleming was invited to testify before the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy (the “Aldridge Commission“); his remarks before that commission are available here.
In May 2005, Stephen returned to his alma mater, Georgia Tech, as Chief Commercialization Officer. His appointment led a reorganization designed to streamline the handling of intellectual property, accelerate the licensing of technology and make the Institute’s resources more readily accessible to business and industry.
In mid-2009, Mr. Fleming was promoted to Vice President, Economic Development and Technology Ventures, and Executive Director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute. In this role, he manages a staff of over 200 Georgia Tech employees located throughout the state of Georgia.
EI2 assists Georgia enterprises improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It includes signature programs such as the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) and the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).
He is a member of the IEEE, the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, a number of regional technology organizations, and the Leadership Atlanta Class of 2014. Mr. Fleming serves on the Boards of Directors for the Technology Association of Georgia and for Culture Connect, a not-for-profit fostering cultural fluency between immigrants and the community at large. He is a former board member of the Spiritual Living Center of Atlanta and Tech High School, a charter high school that emphasized science, math, and technology in urban Atlanta.
Stephen is a frequent public speaker, and has been invited to discuss various topics by the organizations listed here. Many of his presentations are available online here. He maintains a Weblog covering various topics—mostly, but not entirely, related to venture capital or alt.space—at http://www.academicvc.com.
This is the long version. For the short version, click here.
Updated December 2014.
If you’d like a printable CV, you can download it here.
You can download a headshot here.