Ralph Whitworth on What Must Change at Genzyme, Verari Starts Anew, V-Vehicle Tries to Keep it Stealthy, & More San Diego BizTech News

1/25/10Follow @bvbigelow

Shareholder activist Ralph Whitworth explained his move on Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme in a week that was abuzz with news about San Diego people and capital. Here’s a recap of what all that buzzing was about.

—Verari Systems, the San Diego provider of server racks that shut its doors and laid off all but a handful of employees in mid-December, has rebooted its business following an asset sale and “friendly foreclosure,” officially known as an ABC, an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors. An investor group led by Verari’s founder, David Driggers, purchased the company’s inventory, equipment, and technologies. PEHub has reported that Verari had raised $80 million in VC funding from firms like Celerity Partners, Carlyle Venture Partners, Sierra Ventures, and Voyager Capital.

—San Diego investment firm Relational Investors has accumulated a 4 percent stake in Genzyme, the Cambridge-MA-based biotech and genetic diagnostic instrument maker. In a Q&A, Relational co-founder Whitworth explained his shakeup strategy and six goals for turning things around. He has instigated similar changes at Sprint Nextel, Mattel, and J.C. Penney.

—Joe Fisher, the spokesman for San Diego startup carmaker V-Vehicle, says the company, which is refurbishing a factory in Northeastern Louisiana, has not discussed prototype testing, despite a report to the contrary published by the Monroe, LA, Star-News. Fisher also says V-Vehicle has not talked about the price of the car or its fuel system, saying, “That’s just not something we have comment on.” The newspaper reported V-Vehicle’s car will be “a gasoline-powered vehicle that will get 40-plus miles per gallon and costs about $10,000.”

—Excite founder Joe Kraus, an angel investor in San Diego-based OpenCandy’s Series A round of fund-raising, has joined the board of directors at OpenCandy, which operates an online marketplace for open-source software. Kraus recently joined Google Ventures, which conceivably could someday make an investment of its own in OpenCandy.

—MP3.com co-founder Michael Robertson offered his insights into Apple’s online music strategy in a blog written for TechCrunch. Robertson, who founded San Diego-based MP3tunes in 2005 to enable users to store their digital music collections in the cloud, contends that Apple acquired Palo Alto, CA-based LaLa to pursue a strategy for storing music digital files in the cloud.

—San Diego’s AirHop Communications, a 2007 startup that specializes in SON, or self-organizing wireless networking technology, named Perry LaForge to its board of directors. LaForge is the founder and executive director of the Costa Mesa, CA-based CDMA Development Group, or CDG, a trade association comprised of more than 100 of the world’s leading wireless operators and manufacturers.

—New data on nationwide venture investing came in from two additional surveys last week, and while the numbers vary, the overall trends are comparable. Combined with VC survey data from the previous week, we have three different perspectives on 2009:

Dow Jones VentureSource said that VCs invested in 2,817 deals in 2009, and that the total invested for the year amounted to $21.4 billion—a 31 percent decline from 2008.

The MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the National Venture Capital Association, and Thomson Reuters counted $17.7 billion invested in 2,795 deals in 2009, a 37 percent drop in the dollar total from 2008.

ChubbyBrain, a New York financial services startup, said VCs funded 2,461 companies in 2009. Overall investments for the year totaled $20.8 billion, a number not compared to the year before, as ChubbyBrain did not report data for all of 2008.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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