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Friday5: Boston Venture Capital Firms That Mattered Most in 2009

Posted by Scott Kirsner  December 11, 2009 07:10 AM

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It's December, and that means it's mandatory for journalists to start cranking out "year-in-review" lists.

So for this week's Friday5, my list is the five Boston venture capital firms that had the most impact on the local scene in 2009. Disagree? Think I've left off an important firm? Add a comment if you would...


    - Founder Collective, Cambridge and New York. The newest firm in town: a $40 million seed-stage venture fund run by entrepreneurs, not career investors. Founders Eric Paley and Chris Dixon had big hits selling companies to 3M and McAfee; David Frankel built Africa's biggest Internet service provider. (Covered by this blog back in July.) Boston's Flybridge Capital Partners gave Founder Collective a boost, and housed the firm for a stretch earlier this year.

    - North Bridge Venture Partners, Waltham. Super-secretive, stodgy North Bridge continues to be one of the most active and broadly-focused firms in town, putting money into areas like solar cells, stretchable silicon, virtual currencies, quantum dot display technologies, and open source software. North Bridge was the largest shareholder in A123 Systems when the Watertown battery-maker went public in September; though North Bridge can't unload its shares for six months, the A123 IPO at least proved that North Bridge could find an exit with a cleantech investment, something most other VC firms have yet to do. Also in 2009: Starent Networks, a North Bridge company that was already public, was acquired by Cisco for $2.9 billion.

    - Polaris Venture Partners, Waltham. Opened Dogpatch Labs Cambridge, a free incubation space for entrepreneurs, in September. Polaris portfolio company LogMeIn, based in Woburn, went public in July, and Polaris was the second-biggest shareholder (after Needham-based Prism VentureWorks.) Athenix, a Polaris portfolio company making biotech products for agriculture, was acquired for $365 million by Bayer CropScience in Germany. And despite the high-profile shut-down of GreenFuel Technologies in May, Polaris continues to place bets at the intersection of biotech and cleantech, with companies like Sun Catalytix. Most people expect Polaris to go to its investors to raise a new fund in 2010, and it'll be interesting to see how that plays out.

    - Spark Capital, Boston. Boston techies are interested in one Spark investment in particular: Twitter, where partner Bijan Sabet joined the board last year. The San Francisco company has raised $155 million so far, but has yet to start offering, um, a service or feature that someone might pay for. (The company is already making some coin from its search deals with Google and Microsoft.) Sabet also helped introduce the weekly OpenCoffee gathering to Boston, and he's an active blogger and Twitter user. Spark partner Rob Go has been an early advocate of Open Office Hours, when anyone can come meet with him to get feedback on a business idea. All that said, Spark is very much focused on New York and California, with only three active investments (VeriVue, Linkwell, and 8DWorld) in the Boston area. Spark also helped bring the TechStars program to Boston.

    - Third Rock Ventures, Boston. Third Rock, founded by veterans of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, launched in 2007 with a $378 million fund. Taking a very hands-on approach to launching life sciences companies, Third Rock has backed seven start-ups thus far, in areas like obesity, epigenetics, cardiology devices, and health monitoring. (Two more nascent companies, in devices and protein therapeutics, haven't yet been announced.) In July, Third Rock brought three new partners on board, including the former CEO of Interleukin Genetics and a recruiting expert from Cubist Pharmaceuticals.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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