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Richard Dale splits from Sigma to raise money for new VC firm, Big Data Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 9, 2012 07:30 AM

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The "big data" sector continues to gain steam locally, with a new VC firm called Big Data Boston that is out trying to raise $25 million. The firm doesn't yet have a web site or an office, but its founder is Richard Dale, a former principal at Boston-based Sigma Partners and a co-founder of the life sciences software company Phase Forward, which was acquired by Oracle for $685 million. Dale was also VP of operations at Vermeer Technologies, the very early maker of website creation software that was acquired by Microsoft in 1996. Big Data Boston, VC industry sources tell me, intends to invest in software and services startups, but not hardware companies.

Dale told me he couldn't comment on his fundraising efforts, but he was willing to talk about the big data sector in general, and his departure from Sigma. And he did note that he has made some recent investments as an angel, in two recent TechStars Boston startups: Mortar Data and Ginger.io.

"My observation about the term 'big data' is that that it's data with volume, velocity and variety that is growing faster than Moore's law," Dale says. "In the old days, most data problems could be solved as computing speed caught up. Now, there's this deluge of new kinds of data which is growing faster than Moore's law. It can be sensor data, like images, or behavioral data, like clicks on a website. We've basically broken what Moore's law can cope with, and so we need a bunch of new technologies to get on the right side of that again."

Dale did confirm that he's "transitioning out" of the Boston office of Sigma, which recently separated from its Silicon Valley office, set out to raise its own $150 million fund, and rebranded as Sigma Prime. But it sounds like there are no hard feelings: the three managing directors of that firm have committed to invest in Big Data Boston, sources tell me.

So has local angel and entrepreneur Andy Palmer, who has helped start a handful of big data companies, including Vertica. "I believe that one of the very few successful new models for venture investing is the small and 'hyper-focused' fund model," he writes via e-mail. "Richard is hyper-focused on big data/analytics startups in Boston."

Marilyn Matz is CEO of Paradigm4, a Sigma portfolio company where Dale has been a board observer. "He’s worked with a lot of startups and early-stage companies over the past five years, as a mentor, advisor, and co-founder," Matz writes via e-mail, "so he’s seen a lot of what makes companies break out and become great businesses."

Dale says he believes that the big data cluster locally is "poised for massive growth," citing new initiatives like the hack/reduce workspace in Cambridge and the bigdata@CSAIL consortium at MIT.

Dale has been an active mentor with the TechStars Boston and MassChallenge programs for entrepreneurs, and he writes the blog Venture Cyclist.

It'll be interesting to track how Dale does on the fund-raising front...especially since he was a principal — not a partner — at Sigma, and especially since plenty of other VC firms are starting to vie for early-stage big data deals.

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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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