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Entrepreneur laying groundwork for a videogame-focused venture firm in Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 11, 2011 08:50 AM

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Consumer electronics entrepreneur Satayan Mahajan has been working on a blueprint for a new venture capital firm that would focus on games and digital media. The firm would make early-stage investments in start-ups that might need to do substantial product development, and perhaps even launch a product, before other venture firms would consider investing, Mahajan says.

There's no single firm in Massachusetts that regularly invests in gaming start-ups. (However Polaris Venture Partners and Highland Capital Partners did both invest in Turbine Entertainment, a developer of massively-multiplayer games like "Lord of the Rings Online" which is now owned by Warner Bros., and also Hangout Industries, a developer of virtual worlds and Facebook games that is now out of business.) "There's a void here in New England," Mahajan says. "We have a great talent pool in gaming, but the rest of the ecosystem isn't at the same level."

Mahajan's vision is for a $30 million to $50 million fund that would make $200,000 or $300,000 initial investments. One possibility, he says, would be helping to fund gaming and digital media companies that had already graduated from accelerator programs like TechStars, Y Combinator, and MassChallenge, "and putting them together with people who have lots of industry experience."

Mahajan, previously a founder of Motus Games, doesn't yet have a working name for the firm, and says that he hasn't begun talking with potential investors. "I've spent the past six months running around to gaming CEOs and young start-ups, trying to talk myself out of the idea," he says. "But people think it's actually a good idea." (Of course, what entrepreneur would argue against making more money available to entrepreneurs?) Among those he has spoken to is Mike Dornbrook, the former chief operating officer of Harmonix Music Systems, who has made several angel investments recently in local gaming start-ups.

"I'm willing to help if it gets off the ground," Dornbrook writes in an e-mail, adding that he thinks the likelihood of raising $50 million is "miniscule." Mahajan himself acknowledges that fundraising is tough for any new venture firm.

Mahajan's prior project had been Motus Games, a Cambridge company that was developing a videogame controller for PCs that it touted as more sophisticated as the Nintendo Wii. (Motus also developed a motion sensor called the iClub, which attached to golf clubs to provide feedback on the player's swing.) It's not clear what happened to that company. Mahajan's co-founders left for other jobs last year. The company's phone has been disconnected, and its name is no longer listed in the lobby of its onetime Central Square headquarters. Mahajan said he couldn't comment on the status of Motus. "Good things are happening," he says, "but I'm in a quiet period, so I really can't tell you."

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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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