With California Deals Heating Up, Polaris Venture Partners to Open Palo Alto Office

6/1/11Follow @bbuderi

Polaris Venture Partners is significantly increasing its presence in California, where roughly one-third of its active portfolio companies are now based, and plans to soon open an office in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, Xconomy has learned.

Polaris general partner Dave Barrett says the firm is still looking at space and so he can’t identify an exact address for the new office, but that it will be on or near University Avenue in Palo Alto—and should be open for business this summer. Although the Polaris website lists only its Boston area headquarters office, the company currently has a presence in San Francisco, in the form of its Dogpatch Labs incubator established in late 2007, and a small Polaris office that opened adjacent to Dogpatch about a year ago, says Barrett. But the Palo Alto digs will become the new hub of all Polaris operations on the west coast.

[Editor's note: We've added Polaris to our list of Boston-based venture firms that have recently moved or opened Bay Area offices.]

Polaris’s Palo Alto office will be staffed initially by longtime general partner Brian Chee (previously in Seattle—read on) and principal Ryan Spoon, who also oversees Dogpatch in San Francisco. But Barrett says Polaris will be staffing up quickly. “We’re going to hire several more folks over the next year’s time,” he says. The new hires will be investors, most likely at the principal level, Barrett says.

VentureWire reported on Friday that in the face of slow deal flow in Seattle, Polaris recently closed the office it had maintained there since the firm’s 1996 formation and that Chee, who specializes in healthcare and biotech, had moved to San Francisco. (Polaris co-founder Steve Arnold, already stepped back to a venture partner role, will continue to work from Seattle.) But that report mentioned nothing about the Palo Alto plans.

Dogpatch Labs, which is berthed on San Francisco’s Pier 38, really pointed the way to this move, says Barrett. All told, the company has done seven seed stage deals with San Francisco Dogpatch companies, he says (Dogpatch also has branches in Cambridge, MA, and New York). “Dogpatch for us was a very interesting, and so far really, really successful, demonstration that we are committed to that market,” he says. Through it, he adds, Polaris has become “pretty much embedded in the entrepreneurial community.”

In addition to Spoon and now Chee, a host of Polaris investors currently spend large segments of their time in California, especially the Bay Area, Barrett says. They include general partners Amir Nashat, Mike Hirshland, Jon Flint, Peter Flint, and Alan Spoon, and principal Jason Trevisan. Behind their activity, which cumulatively cuts across healthcare, biotech, consumer Internet, and media, Barrett estimates that roughly a third of Polaris’s active portfolio companies—about 35 in all—are headquartered in the state.

“So all of us are living [there] virtually, and it became more and more important for us to have a strong base of operations,” he says. “It just began to make more and more sense to increase our presence there.”

Here is a quick look at some notable California-based Polaris portfolio companies:

Seed or very early stage

Recurly (San Francisco) — Subscription billing management, hatched at Dogpatch

Early stage

Automattic (San Francisco) — The WordPress company

CatchFree (Newport Beach and San Francico) — Just-unveiled startup helps people find and share free services and apps

Egnyte (Mountain View) — Cloud services

ShoeDazzle (Los Angeles) — Women’s online shoe club co-founded by Kim Kardashian

Growth equity stage

LegalZoom (Los Angeles) — Online legal services

MarkMonitor (San Francisco) — Enterprise brand protection

Life sciences

Asthmatx (Sunnyvale) — Medical device technology for treating asthma

Fate Therapeutics (La Jolla) — Stem cell biology and technology company

MedVantx (San Diego) — Consumer medication management through doctors’ offices and at home

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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