Release Date: 02/06/2014
TiE-Boston held its Annual VC Outlook Dinner on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at the Microsoft NERD Center. This was the second year that the annual event was held in Cambridge and the turnout was great. A sold-out crowd of 150 attendees listened to and engaged with our panel of top venture capitals.
This year’s panelists included Jean Francois Formela, Partner, Atlas Venture; Kent Bennett, Venture Capital Investor, Bessemer Venture Partners; Tasneem Dohadwala, Partner, Excelestar Ventures; and Zenas Hutcheson, Venture Partner, Icon Venture Partners. The panel will be moderated by Atlas Venture’s Chris Lynch, who kept the discussion interesting and insightful
Chris started the discussion by talking about how Boston is a great place to start a business because “all the elements for continued greatness are here.” Organizations like TiE-Boston, the venture capital community, the angel community, etc are all here to help but ultimately it comes down to entrepreneurs willing to take the plunge and Boston has plenty.
After the panel introduced themselves, Chris asked each person to talk about what they felt was the hottest areas to invest in for 2014. The usual industries were mentioned; big data, cloud, and mobile, but a few interesting areas were also brought up. Kent Bennet talked about technology-enabled consumer services which are basically service companies that have incorporated technology to better serve consumers (think Uber). Tashneem Dohadwala talked about the rise in software development and went on further to talk about how the need for new software to work with new architectures that are being created as companies move to a more active data usage.
Chris made a good point at after everyone that it does not matter what industries the panelists mention, successful entrepreneurs do not follow the money; rather they pursue a market that is one they are passionate about and pursue the idea that they cannot get out of their head.
Next, the panel discussed Boston’s strengths and what makes the city special for entrepreneurs. Tasneem talked about how seasoned entrepreneurs and new entrepreneurs are pairing up to create dynamic teams that are creating far more innovative solutions than you see is some other cities. Zenas Hutcheson mentioned how the engineering talent in the area coupled with good infrastructures leads to 1st class products being built here. Jean-François Formela focused more on the biotech industry specifically and how the high density of companies and the composition of talent has turned Boston into the top biomedical research center in the world.
While the panel focused on what makes Boston so great, Chris had to mention areas that Boston’s startup scene still needs to work on: collaborating because it is missing and young venture people because only young venture people are willing to engage with young entrepreneurs and invest in them.
The most controversial question of the night was on accelerator programs. For the most part, all the panelists agreed that accelerator programs are not as useful as they claim to be. While the rest of the panel discussed the pros and cons of accelerator programs, Chris’ expletive-laced response was frank. At this time, TiE-Boston President, Prat Moghe took this chance to discuss how TiE Challenge is not like most accelerator programs and in fact addressed all the points that Chris mentioned.
Before going into Q & A, Chris gave three TiE Challenge companies (VocalBee, Cognii, and Rhoost) the opportunity to pitch to the audience and panel and get feedback on their pitches. Although there was only time for 3 companies to pitch, he and Kent extended an offer to hear all the companies pitch privately.