VC Firms, Led By Advanced Technology Ventures, Aim To Polish Image with Entrepreneurs

2/11/09

This we’ve known: The venture capital business model relies on having talented entrepreneurs to run their portfolio companies. Yet many entrepreneurs love to hate VCs, and new online forums such as TheFunded.com have made this reality more clear than ever (Bob wrote about how TheFunded.com has made its ratings of VC firms and partners available to the public). Now local VCs are concerned how entrepreneurs view their industry, because some of them are taking action to show how much they value the people driving their portfolio companies.

Leading the charge is Waltham, MA-based Advanced Technology Ventures, which launched a new website that speaks loud and clear about its desire to build more bridges with entrepreneurs. In fact, the words “Exceptional Entrepreneurs” jump out on the homepage in extra-large and bold letters. Scroll down the page and you’ll find several video clips of interviews with CEOs at the firm’s portfolio companies who talk about what inspires them to be entrepreneurs.

ATV isn’t the only firm trying to do more to reach out. I noticed last month while visiting Flybridge Capital Partners’ new offices in downtown Boston that there were photos of founders of most of the companies in which the firm has invested (yes, even the ones that didn’t succeed) hanging in the lobby. It’s a different look than the tombstones marking successful financings that usually festoon the walls of VC firms.

I spoke yesterday with general partners from both firms to find out what this is all about. Bob Hower of ATV and Michael Greeley of Flybridge made clear that they take seriously how entrepreneurs regard their VC firms. Indeed, Hower told me that VCs compete to attract and maintain ties with talented entrepreneurs who may have their pick of many firms willing to fund their startups.

There was a concerted effort to make the new ATV site a better resource for and to feature entrepreneurs, Hower says, but the website isn’t enough to change some of the negative views some people have toward VCs. “I guess I wouldn’t put too much stock in just a website,” he says. “I think a lot of people have websites and say a lot of things, but at the end of the day if an entrepreneur has had a bad experience [with a VC firm] I think they need to have a good experience to change their mind.”

Hower told me that he had just come from an event at MIT where one entrepreneur referred to VCs as “lemmings and cowards.”

Flybridge’s Greeley says that he and his partners think of themselves as entrepreneurs, having founded the firm in 2001, and set out from the launch of the firm to be the first people that company founders call when seeking advice and cash. “It sounds sort of hackish to say,” he says, “but we really wanted to be on the same side of the entrepreneur.”

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