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waste-methane-powered system to produce clean drinking water in the developing world. Later Joel Cutler, managing director of General Catalyst Partners, told the audience that the poor economy, and the dearth of high-paying jobs with established companies, has yielded the benefit of inspiring more young people to pursue careers with startups. Cutler’s firm has even brought on a co-founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes, who is helping the firm connect with young innovators, he said.
—Corporate dollars may fill part of the venture investment void. We heard from executives at major companies such IBM, EMC, and GSK about their interests in investing in innovation. This comes as the venture capital industry struggles to raise money for new funds to back early-stage startups. “Corporate investors are filling the gap left by venture folks, who have not returned capital well over the past 10 years,” said Christoph Westphal, who is CEO of Cambridge, MA, biotech Sirtris, a subsidiary of London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline. (Westphal spoke as a former VC at Polaris Venture Partners.) Also, IBM executive Mohamad Ali said that he would like to work more with innovators outside of the walls of Big Blue. “I would like to do more with Massachusetts universities,” Ali said. “It’s an open invitation.” John Maraganore, CEO of Cambridge biotech Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY), added that if the venture model is no longer able to serve the needs of some innovators, “then entrepreneurs will find a new way do things.”
—New ventures are still spawning all over the place. These aren’t the salad days for venture-backed startups, but Bob Higgins, founder and partner at Highland Capital Partners and other VCs said that their firms continue to seed new startups. In fact, Higgins said that his firm has seeded 60 startups over the past four years, even though only 15 of them have closed Series A rounds of venture financing. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Eric Paley, who recently co-founded venture firm Founders Collective, noted that he has seed-funded more than 20 startups over the past few years.
—The promise of New England startups was on full display during the XSITE Xpo, where 12 of some of the most promising young firms in the fields of energy, life sciences, technology competed for votes from audience members on which of the firms had the most potential to transform their respective industries. The winners in each of the three categories were: Cambridge-based Satori Pharmaceuticals, which is aiming to cure Alzheimer’s disease with small-molecule drugs; WiTricity, an MIT spin-off that is developing wireless electricity by transferring energy magnetically; Skyhook Wireless, a provider of location-based applications enabled by its Wi-Fi Positioning System.
—Entrepreneurs can lead the ways during times of “extreme uncertainty,” said Noubar Afeyan, managing partner and CEO of Flagship Ventures. Afeyan suggested that startup entrepreneurs are perhaps best equipped to deal with economic uncertainty, suggesting that such a person would be an appropriate leader for some of America’s troubled industry giants such as GM. That assertion brought loud applauds. “The rest of the economy is now dealing with the uncertainty that we all deal with in the best of times,” he said.
Xconomy staffers and audience members posted extensive updates from XSITE on Twitter—for the full stream of comments search for the tag #xsite09 or click here.
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