By Alan Crane, Partner, Polaris Partners
I was an entrepreneur as a Harvard undergrad before it was popular. I’m not going to give the year, but trust me; it seems like a long time ago!
During my junior year, I started the Harvard Model Congress (not quite a social media site) with a friend and served as the first president. That was one of the most exciting experiences I had as an undergrad and it shaped my entire career. After Harvard College, I went off to Harvard Medical School with an entrepreneurial bug that led me to pursue starting biotechs…which I continue to do today with some of the most gifted innovators in the world.
Today, Polaris joined with the venture capital firms NEA, Accel, and Breyer Capital in support of The Experiment Fund, a unique venture fund that will support entrepreneurial students at Harvard and in Cambridge broadly. I will join the investment board of The Xfund, and I’m hoping to have an impact on Harvard and other area students thinking big thoughts.
The fund is the brainchild of Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Cherry Murray, as well as Harvard’s David Edwards, Hugo Van Vuuren and Patrick Chung. (I wish the fund had existed when I was a student!) Beyond the fund’s important financial resources, students have the opportunity to work with some of the leading company builders in the nation, including NEA’s Harry Weller and Patrick Chung as well as Accel’s Jim Breyer.
At Polaris, we believe that venture is about investing in truly breakthrough ideas that can change the world. That’s one of the key reasons that we have been so committed to academic spin-outs – we have invested in about 40 such companies, often playing a critical role in founding and building the companies. The Xfund represents an outstanding opportunity for us to continue partnering with Harvard and other leading academic institutions, including students and faculty.
The reality is that we have an incredible global competitive advantage here in Boston and Cambridge. There is no place like this anywhere on the planet (although my California, New York and Dublin partners will argue this point with me)! As the world has moved to an economy that is fueled by intellectual content and novel ideas, our Cantabrigian advantage has only increased. As venture investors here, we believe that we have a fundamental obligation to make sure that we continue to build the ecosystem.
We launched an @dogpatchlabs innovation community in Cambridge for this very reason. Many successful young companies have now had their start there. Recently, we also announced a unique collaboration with Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical arm Janssen. This effort will supercharge our life sciences effort at @dogpatchlabs, complementing our technology oriented initiatives there. The Xfund represents the next step for us. Partnering with Harvard and other institutions, we can provide the critical advice that aspiring student and faculty entrepreneurs need as they launch their companies.