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Splitting vs. Expanding the Pie: Thoughts on the New Early-Stage VCs in Boston

Rob Go
April 19, 2017 · 3  min.

Recently, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time with a number of the new early-stage investors in Boston. There are a lot of new folks in the space.

Just last week, Axios announced that Stephen Marcus is raising a fund called Riot Ventures and Term Sheet announced that Nilanjana Bhowmik from Longworth will be joining Converge. In addition to these firms, others that have launched relatively recently include:

  • Hyperplane
  • First Star Ventures (FKA Procyon)
  • The Engine
  • E14 Fund
  • Underscore.VC
  • Pillar
  • Glasswing Ventures
  • Tectonic Ventures

As more early-stage investors emerge in Boston, some folks have asked me whether I feel any discomfort around the many new “competitors” on the scene.

While this is a rational question, I think it assumes a bit of a “split the pie” vs. “expand the pie” mentality — and I’m a firm believer in expanding the pie.

Seven years ago, NextView came onto the scene with a smaller wave of new firms, including Founder Collective, Boston Seed, Bolt, G20, and a few other folks. On top of that, larger firms like Accomplice started to invest more aggressively in seed. I think it’s no surprise that the Boston ecosystem has a vibrancy now that is far greater than what existed seven years ago, in part because of the activity of these firms.

Additionally, a number of these firms are our most frequent collaborators in investments by a longshot. Having more terrific investors at the early stage is the best thing you can imagine for an ecosystem that is blessed with great talent coming out of winning companies and being refreshed by the university ecosystem each and every year.

The pie is getting bigger — and I think that will continue to be true with these new firms. We’ve already collaborated with a number of folks here, and I’m looking forward to more diversity of thought in the future syndicates we’re a part of. I’m especially interested in some of these new firms’ similarities:

  1. A number of these firms have female check-writers. I’m hoping that this trend continues. We need more women — and more diversity in general — in the venture ecosystem. If the whole industry mirrored the diversity in this group, we’d be off to a good start.
  2. Almost all of the firms are focused on some flavor of AI/Machine Learning. It’s certainly the theme of the day, much like “Big Data” was 7 years ago. It is also an area of strength in the Boston market, which is great. The question will be around separating the hype from reality. I think having technical partners who have actually built machine learning systems will be a distinct advantage.
  3. This actually doesn’t represent as many net new entrants as it seems, as a number of these investors are from other less-active lifecycle firms. It’s more like we have more partners from established funds who can look at the market with a blank slate and design the best product for early stage founders that they are able to provide. This is a good thing. It will be interesting to see whether more innovation will come from the firms that have roots in prior funds or from the new entrants with less investing experience but perhaps very new perspectives. Hopefully, the answer will be all of the above.
  4. Many of these funds have a focus on the long-view of innovation. We live in a time full of promise. It’s great that some of these firms are thinking about how innovation and technology will impact us in 10+ years instead of just the milestones needed to raise the next round in 12 months.

Overall, having more early-stage investors is a huge win for the founder community in Boston. In order for innovation to prosper, we need more shots on goal and more founders to believe that this is a great place for them to get the best shots on goal. I’m glad to be a small part of that kind of an ecosystem.

Rob Go
Rob is a co-founder and Partner at NextView. He tries to spend as much time as possible working with entrepreneurs to develop products that solve important problems for everyday people.