Silicon Valley venture capitalists with no Internet experience are rushing to fund Internet companies. Sound like 1999? Think again. We're in 2005, and...

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Silicon Valley venture capitalists with no Internet experience are rushing to fund Internet companies.

Sound like 1999?

Think again. We’re in 2005, and it’s happening again — at least in some quarters.

The latest funding comes from the guys at SDL Ventures, a Menlo Park venture firm, which has invested an undisclosed amount of capital into Brilliant Shopper, a Fremont, Calif., startup focused on online comparison shopping.

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Brilliant is the latest in a slew of comparative-shopping companies. Mature players abound, including Yahoo!, Google and There are also privately held NexTag, Shopzilla, PriceGrabber and

Become, of Mountain View, announced a $7.2 million second round in late May — saying it allows users to both research and browse products with two different buttons.

Brilliant offers only the product listings. Phillip Lan said he wants to get the product shopping right, and only then think about offering research.

But look who is doing the funding. SDL Ventures is led by Donald Scifres, formerly the founder and CEO of SDL, the San Jose optical-components company that was one of the hottest during the Internet bubble years. Scifres’ partner is Michael Foster, the former chief financial officer at SDL.

SDL helped build the infrastructure for the communications boom of the late 1990s. San Jose’s JDS Uniphase bought SDL in 2000 at an announced price of $41 billion in stock, a record at the time for a Silicon Valley tech merger.

So you can imagine the SDL guys made quite a bit of money. No wonder then, that Scifres and Foster decided to start their own firm in 2003 to invest in their area of specialty: “Photonics, optics, lasers and fiber optic and microwave communications,” according to their Web site.

So why are they veering to invest in Internet retail?

Because it’s hot, and VCs are the lemmings. Google and Yahoo! started making money hand over fist, because of all the advertisers wanting to pay big bucks to list ads beside search results.

And now others are trying to replicate that success — either with an advertising model, or seeking another way to get a cut.

Brilliant has just finished developing its own spidering technology, Lan said. This will soon crawl the Web to search targeted retailers and other vendors for product information that Brilliant will list on its Web site.

So exactly how did SDL’s Scifres have the guts to bet on a Brilliant, way outside his area of expertise? Well, surprise, it goes back to a personal connection: They have a mutual contact.

Scifres said he gained confidence in the team (of only 10 people), and found Brilliant useful after tinkering with it himself: “It’s basically there to find hard-to-find items,” he said.

For example, Scifres said he found a telephone answering machine with two lines instead of one. “I couldn’t find it at any of the stores, or online. But I found it at [Brilliant] within 30 seconds.”

Scifres has also invested in, an online shopping site for gifts such as flowers, candy and teddy bears. “Again, we knew some people in the company,” he explains.

Does it herald a full-scale shift by SDL? Scifres wouldn’t say, but hinted that with two investments in the sector, “maybe we’ll get more confident.”

Matt Marshall is a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News