Harvard Experiment Fund, Backed by NEA, Joins Crowded Investor Field

1/31/12Follow @gthuang

There’s a new player in the seed-stage investment game in Boston. As of this week, the Experiment Fund is open for business at Harvard University, backed by the Silicon Valley venture firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA). The startup investment fund is being hosted by Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in Cambridge, MA.

The new fund is led by Hugo Van Vuuren (see photo above), a Harvard graduate student and entrepreneur, and two venture capitalists from NEA, Patrick Chung and Harry Weller (both Harvard alums). David Edwards, a Harvard professor of biomedical engineering, serves as an advisor to the fund. Van Vuuren and NEA did not respond to requests for comment in time for this article.

The basic structure of the Experiment Fund is that selected startups—mostly student-led teams from Cambridge—will receive up to $250,000 in seed funding over the next two years, presumably in exchange for a sizable equity stake in the companies. The fund is based out of Harvard but says it will operate independently of the university and will look at teams from other local schools—and, more broadly, from the East Coast. The sectors targeted are pretty broad as well; they include information technology, healthcare, and energy.

No word yet on the size of the fund or how many companies it will invest in. But Van Vuuren, a recent fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said in a press release that he and his partners are looking for “smart and resourceful people, zealous full-time teams, and experiments in need of seed funding and hands-on help to get off the ground.”

Not to beat a dead Zuckerberg, but the overarching goal here is to keep the next Facebook in Boston—and, preferably, affiliated with Harvard. “It’s continued growth of the ecosystem for Harvard and beyond,” says Gordon Jones, director of the Harvard Innovation Lab, which is collaborating with the Experiment Fund to provide office space and resources, but is separate from the new fund. Jones calls the Experiment Fund “extremely complementary” to the i-Lab.

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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