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After departing HP, ex-Vertica CEO Chris Lynch has plans to make 20 investments in burgeoning 'big data' sector

Posted by Scott Kirsner  March 23, 2012 09:42 AM

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On the afternoon of February 24th, Chris Lynch got up in front of the 150 employees of HP's Vertica division to make a speech. The group, focused on analytical software that wrings insight from real-time streams of data, had just moved to Alewife from Billerica, and most assumed that Lynch was simply christening the new location. They were ready to drink some beer, eat some cheese, and play some Rock Band.

Vertica had been acquired by HP for $350 million the prior February, and while the employees didn't expect Lynch to stay forever, they were surprised when he told them that he'd be leaving in March. "I said, 'I love you guys. This office is my gift to you.'" Lynch told the rank and file that he believed that a revolution was brewing in Boston around "big data" — collecting and analyzing vast amounts of information in real-time — and he wanted to be part of that revolution as an angel investor. While HP CEO Meg Whitman and COO Ray Lane tried to persuade Lynch to stick around at the company, his last day was last Friday. (Ex-VC and Vertica executive Colin Mahony is now running the Cambridge office.)

Lynch says that the HP purchase of Vertica was the second-best payday of his career (the top was ArrowPoint Communications, which went public and then was acquired by Cisco for $5.7 billion). He's now positioning himself as an angel investor focused on big data startups, primarily in Boston. His plan is to make 20 investments in the near-term; already, he has put money into a handful of local startups, including Hopper, Kinvey, Mortar Data, Power Inbox, and Hadapt. He says he often shares dealflow with Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners and Jeff Fagnan of Atlas Venture.

"I grew up in the tech industry in this area," Lynch says. "And it felt like for the last 10 or 15 years, we've been hibernating, and the West Coast is taking all the mojo. We've been at the front of waves of technology in the past, with minicomputers and then data networking. I want to help revitalize Boston. Big data is going to be to this region what networking was in the late 80s and early 90s."

"If you look at the way the web played out, at first people were creating discrete new businesses online, and then Main Street took it and integrated it into their existing businesses," Lynch continues. "Today, you have companies like Zynga and Groupon that have built their businesses on real-time analytics and big data, but the megatrend over the next year-and-a-half is that companies like Gillette and Fidelity are going to get on board. In a year or two, you'll be asking them about their analytics strategy, and how they're using data to gain competitive advantage. How are you using the information you have about customers to provide a better experience, and sell you more stuff? Big data is at the foundation of all of the megatrends that are happening today, from social to mobile to the cloud to gaming."

"I love people and a lot of how I invest is about stories," Lynch says. "I think about people and their mission, and I think if they're in the right market space, we'll figure it out."

Lynch's five investments so far are all in Boston, but he says he'll consider investing in other regions, too — just not Silicon Valley, which he regards as "over-invested" and "plastic."

In Boston, he says, "you have the best data scientists in the world here. You've had great companies created like Vertica, Netezza, and Endeca. I want to bring that mojo back that we had in the 80s and 90s."

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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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