Taking a VC Approach to Charity, Greylock Veteran’s Alzheimer’s Research Foundation “Dares to Be Great”

8/25/10Follow @xconomy

When Henry McCance started at Greylock Partners in 1969, the venture capital industry had less than $100 million of capital flowing into it each year, he approximates. Now, it’s roughly a $20 billion-a-year sector of the financial world that has backed companies whose products are, in many cases, staples of modern living.

Five years ago, McCance, now Greylock’s chairman emeritus, started a nonprofit research foundation called the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, based on many of the same principals he sees as driving the venture capital success he’s witnessed over the past four decades.

“I’ve seen the power of what a passionate, bright entrepreneur, coupled with some farsighted investors, can do in terms of changing an industry and transforming how the commercial world works,” McCance says. He hopes his foundation can bring about a similar transformation in the realm of medical research.

It all started about ten years ago, when McCance’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the degenerative neurological disorder. The couple visited a number of doctors, and McCance found that most doctors’ advice seemed primitive at best, suggesting patients do things like take Advil or vitamin E as ways to slow the disease’s progression, he says.

download_lowres_mccanceDetermined to change that state of affairs, he connected with a few other wealthy families with a strong interest in Alzheimer’s research, he says. Veteran investors Jacqui and Jeff Morby and philanthropists Phyllis and Jerome Rappaport joined him as the founders of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, he says.

First they set out to find the brightest minds in Alzheimer’s research. This falls directly in line with McCance’s first tenet of venture capital success: find the visionaries. “The really great venture capitalists are proactive, not reactive,” he says. “They try to identify the best entrepreneurial talent and they go and sell themselves to those future leaders.”

So rather than sifting through unsolicited research proposals from across the country, the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund founders looked for the people who they thought were the best. Top of the list was Massachusetts General Hospital geneticist and Alzheimer’s expert Rudolph Tanzi, McCance says, who joined the foundation to head up its research consortium.

McCance’s second piece of advice for … Next Page »

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