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Restless Investor Pushes Board to Adopt Exit Strategy for CEO

Novatel Wireless Inc., the publicly traded maker of wireless hardware, is feeling more pressure to change things at the top.

Bruce Karsh, a major investor in the company, said in a recent securities filing that he insisted to new board Chairwoman Sue Swenson on May 30 that CEO Peter Leparulo must step down from his post. According to the securities filing, the investor told the head of the board that Leparulo “has had ample opportunity to reverse the company’s disappointing financial performance and has failed to do so.” Novatel had not responded to a request for comment, relayed through its publicity firm, by press time.

Novatel (Nasdaq: NVTL) plans to jettison one underperforming part of the business and recently agreed to investor demands to appoint Richard Karp and Alex Mashinsky to its board. The business has not had a profitable year since 2009. Novatel reported $48.3 million in revenue in its most recent quarter, down from $85.9 million in the year-ago quarter. The net loss was about $9 million each time.

Novatel will hold its annual meeting June 24.

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Mental Chess Games: Broadcom Corp., an Irvine-based competitor of San Diego’s Qualcomm Inc., plans to stop making cellular radio chips for mobile devices. Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM) said June 2 that it intends to wind down its baseband business — or sell it, opening the possibility that some other tech company might want to buy it and challenge Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM). Analysts have been playing mental chess games, wondering what would happen if Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Taiwan-based MediaTek Inc. or South Korea-based Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. picked up the Broadcom business and built on Broadcom’s foundation. Those of us outside the Qualcomm campus will likely never know what executives think about the matter, but it would be interesting to hear their conversations.

Broadcom said it was spending $600 million annually in the baseband space. That covers research and development, as well as selling, general and administrative expenses.

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For Freshmen: Fhoosh Inc., co-founded by Linda Eigner and Eric Tobias, is among those that made the San Diego Venture Group’s 2014 list of Cool Companies. The business develops cloud-based software to help students navigate the college application, scholarship and financial aid process. The company hopes to expand its patent-pending technology to other high-stakes key life events. Fhoosh and 29 other businesses will be on hand for the Venture Summit, an all-morning event that takes place June 19 at the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina, 333 W. Harbor Drive. Information on the event is at www.sdvg.org.

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Tools for the Lab: Whether it’s a new computer or a wrench set, it’s great to get a high-quality, new tool for the workshop. The Pentagon recently announced that the Office of Naval Research is funding high-end research equipment at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The recipients are William Hodgkiss, who is getting a two-dimensional array for acoustic field structure research; Andrew Lucas, who wants to put real-time data telemetry aboard the Wirewalker wave-powered profiling vehicle; Robert Pinkel, who is working to improve the performance of a hydrographic Doppler sonar system; and Caglar Yardim, who is working to measure electromagnetic propagation in the lower atmosphere. Scripps is part of the University of California, San Diego. The Pentagon spread its awards among 84 academic institutions, spending $39.9 million — which, in Defense Department terms, is pocket change.

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Pit Stop: San Juan Capistrano has swallows, an old Spanish mission and a new attraction for San Diegans with electric cars. The burg on Interstate 5 now has the first Tesla Motors Inc. (Nasdaq: TSLA) Supercharger facility between here and Los Angeles. People needing to fuel up on that route can find the charging station next to the Union Bank branch at 31971 Camino Capistrano. (Hint: The funky and charming Los Rios district is worth a look while the car is charging.) Tesla sells cars through a network of retail stores, including one at the University Towne Center mall.

Send San Diego technology news to bradg@sdbj.com.

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