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Who are Boston's go-to venture capitalists?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 9, 2012 12:59 PM

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When an entrepreneur in Boston has a new idea, which investors see it first?

I surveyed 91 entrepreneurs over the past week to create a list, from their perspective, of the "go to" VCs in Boston in five different categories. It turned out to be easier to determine the top dogs in software and the web than it was in fields like life sciences or semiconductors.

I solicited entrepreneurs to participate primarily by e-mailing people in my contact database who have started companies and raised venture capital before... but I also invited people to respond via Twitter. My question was simple: "Who is the first VC in Boston/New England you'd pitch?" I asked people to weigh in only on fields where they'd had experience:

  • Social, mobile, consumer web, and games
  • Enterprise-oriented software, services, software-as-a-service
  • Life sciences, healthcare, and medical devices
  • Cleantech, energy, sustainability, LEDs, and batteries
  • Semiconductors, telecom, materials, robotics, and other "hard" technologies that don't fit into the cleantech category.

There was far more consensus on the first two categories than the last three. Top vote-getters in those categories received more than a dozen votes, while winners of the other categories rarely received more than three. That's both because I received fewer responses from entrepreneurs in fields like life sciences and cleantech, and also because votes were spread over a longer list of investors, especially in the life sciences category (where 44 respondents gave votes to 23 different VCs.)

David Skok and Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix, pictured above, were among those who made the list:

Social/consumer web/mobile/games (62 responses):

Go-to investor: Bijan Sabet, Spark Capital (blog)

Runner-up: Eric Paley, Founder Collective (blog)

Go-to firm: Spark Capital (this category tallies all of the mentions for individual investors working at the firm, plus votes for the firm that didn't mention individual investors)

Enterprise-oriented software, services, and SaaS (57 responses):

Go-to investor: David Skok, Matrix Partners (blog)

Runner-up: Izhar Armony, Charles River Ventures

Go-to firm: Matrix Partners

Life sciences, healthcare, and medical devices (45 responses):

Go-to investor: Michael Greeley, Flybridge Capital Partners (blog)

Runner-up: Bruce Booth, Atlas Venture (blog)

Go-to firm: Polaris Venture Partners

Cleantech, energy, and sustainability (32 responses):

Go-to investor: Matt Nordan, Venrock (blog)

Runner-up: Bilal Zuberi, General Catalyst (blog)

Go-to firm: North Bridge Venture Partners

Semiconductors/telecom/materials/robotics (32 responses):

Go-to investor: David Aronoff, Flybridge Capital Partners (blog)

Runner-up: No clear runner-up

Go-to firm: Matrix Partners

Wild card:

Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners joined the firm in 2010, and his lack of a long track record of investments may be why he received votes in three different categories: social, enterprise, and semiconductors. His votes across those three categories totaled 7.25, which made him the third-highest rated individual investor in the survey after Skok and Sabet. (Rodriguez's blog.)

Here's a Twitter list of all of the individuals and firms above.

Some comments from the repondents:

"Bruce [Booth] is not only familiar with the areas of greatest potential medical breakthroughs, he is also at the forefront of new business models, is a great booster for biotech investment, and is a well-known thought leader who would be a great 'name' for any company."

"The one that stands out to me is David Skok....I know all of the Boston VC's and he is a star. Started several companies and took a couple public. Great board member."

"Michael Greeley is the VC who impressed me the most, after talking to a long line of VCs who say 'they're different and add value.' Michael seemed truly great. He did not invest in my firm."

"Antonio [Rodriguez] funded our current startup, and he's been quite amazing I think. Patient, honest, thoughtful and focused on the right questions that challenge us."

"Bijan's record is world class for any city: Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare."

"I associate Bijan [Sabet] and David [Skok] exactly with the respective sectors asked about. Bijan has obviously done a bunch of consumer investments and David knows Saas better than practically anyone else (and with insightful blog posts!)"

A few notes: Everyone on the list is an active blogger, except for Armony at Charles River. (Though Armony has blogged in the past about his alternate career as a off-road rally driver.) Aronoff at Flybridge moved to New York over the summer to help expand the firm's office there, so he may not really be accurately defined as a Boston VC going forward.

A bit on methodology: Every time a venture capitalist was named in the survey, I gave them one point. Except, that is, if an entrepreneur said that investor had funded their current company, or one they'd worked for in the past. Then I split the point, 75/25, between the first investor they named and a runner up that I asked them to name. (I wanted to counterbalance entrepreneurs' tendency to want to stay in the good graces of current backers.) In cases where respondents didn't name individual VCs as I'd asked, but instead listed a firm, I kept a tally of those points too. To figure out the go-to firms in each category, I tallied the votes for individual investors at that firm as well as those for the firm itself. I asked respondents not to alert their venture capitalist pals about the survey, as I didn't want anyone campaigning for votes.

You can view the survey here, though I'm no longer tabulating responses.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched 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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