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Cambridge-based Launch Capital turns portfolio company execs into scouts, starts hosting 'unconferences'

Posted by Scott Kirsner  June 28, 2011 09:45 AM

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With the unveiling of a new Web site today, Cambridge-based Launch Capital is rolling out two new programs, primarily geared to the companies in which it invests. Launch makes small, early-stage investments in companies like SocialSci, which helps academic researchers conduct surveys, or RunKeeper, which operates a fitness-based social network.

Launch managing director Elon Boms dubs the new Launch Capital Referral Program a "game-changer." It turns the founders and executives at Launch's portfolio companies into a network of scouts helping Launch find new investments. Boms writes via e-mail, "We are offering a meaningful piece of the upside" — IE, equity — "in any business that we invest in that has been referred in by someone in our immediate portfolio network. We have, effectively, created venture partners out of all 75 of our portfolio companies." Many of the companies, Boms says, already introduce Launch to promising new start-ups. But by formalizing the program, he says, "we hope to also create a tighter network of companies that are collaborating with one another and learning from each other — since they will be aligned in each other's upside."

Launch also began hosting summits for its portfolio companies last fall — something many venture firms do — but Boms says they're different in that they follow the "unconference" format. "The companies create the agenda and drive the meeting," he explains, without a pre-set agenda or speakers. On the horizon are several more summits, on topics like "Customer Acquisition Strategies for Internet Companies" and "Being a Female Founder."

The firm is headquartered in Harvard Square, but has outposts in Connecticut and California as well. It makes investments ranging from $25,000 to $250,000, with an average investment of about $150,000, Boms says. Launch invests in non-tech start-ups, too, like Voltage Coffee & Art, a café in Kendall Square, and the Nanny Caddy, a vending machine for parents on the go that dispenses diapers and pacifiers.

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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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