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New handheld device firm formed

Palm Computing founders and two venture capitalist heavyweights are building up a new handheld device company.

Palm Computing founders and venture capitalist heavyweights Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Benchmark Capital are building up a handheld device firm and expect to begin shipping a new product late next year.

The new company, temporarily called JD Technology, is locating its staff of eight to a new office in Palo Alto, California, and developing product plans, said Donna Dubinsky, chief executive and former 3Com general manager of Palm Computing.

Dubinsky and Palm inventor Jeff Hawkins had sold their Palm Computing business to former modem maker U.S. Robotics, which was later acquired by 3Com. Hawkins had previously served as chief technology officer for Palm Computing.

Dubinsky and Hawkins are among a number of executives who are departing large corporations to delve into a start-up. Peter Neupert, who played a key role in Microsoft's Internet and cable startegies, recently joined start-up Drugstore.com as its chief executive. Vinod Dham, the 47-year-old semiconductor executive from AMD and Intel, recently joined semiconductor start-up Silicon Spice as president and chief executive officer. And Richard Wolpert, former president of Disney Online, also quit his post and joined a new Internet venture under Yucaipa Companies.

Dubinsky and Hawkins left 3Com in July to launch their new company, as they looked to reenter the entreprenueral world, Hawkins said.

"We view handheld computing as being in its infancy," Hawkins said. "Even though Palm Computing was one of the most successful computing companies, there is a lot of market growth in this industry and we think we'll do good as an emerging company."

Apparently, Kleiner Perkins, Benchmark, and other VCs hold a similar view.

"All the venture guys have been interested in what we're doing. We've been leaders in the market and Jeff is the leading inventor in the Palm," said Dubinsky. "The [VCs] have approached us--we didn't approach them. We actually took very few calls from them and declined most since we didn't need to shop the deal around. We could have financed it ourselves."

That's quite a different situation from days gone past, when Dubinsky was looking to find a VC to help finance Palm Computing.

"The last time around, we couldn't find anyone to invest in us. This [handheld computing] category had had $1 billion spent on it with no real successes, so people were not willing to finance us, so we had to sell our company to U.S. Robotics," she said.

Hawkins declined to disclose the amount of financing the company receives from the VCs.

John Doerr with Kleiner Perkins and Bruce Dunlevie with Benchmark will serve on the company's board, Hawkins said.

Hawkins declined to elaborate on the company's hardware plans, other than to say that JD Technology will become a licensee of the Palm Computing platform.

PalmPilots have taken the handheld device market by storm, with the user base expected to reach 2.2 million by the end of this year, according to analysts. And also stepping into the arena this year was Microsoft, which began shipping its palm-sized PCs.