Why We Chose Four Funds of the Year at #NEVYs18
Beyond the intergalactic Star Wars theme, the 2018 NEVYs had a few new looks. Broad categories like “Hottest Startup” and “Tech Exit of the Year” were replaced by narrower, industry-specific awards like “Consumer Company of the Year” and “Company of the Year in Cleantech and Energy”. But the biggest shakeup may have been to the criteria for “NEVCA Fund of the Year”.
When most people think about successful VC firms, words like “funds raised”, “exits”, “valuations,” and “returns” come to mind. In the past, those formed the backbone of the Fund of the Year category. But 2018 saw a different set of criteria. Consistent with the organization’s core values and ongoing initiatives, the NEVCA set out to honor member firms who are — and have been — leading in areas beyond their portfolio.
Specifically, firm-led efforts on Diversity, Gender Equity, Social Enterprise, and Ecosystem Development — both implicit and explicit — were key. And that’s why we wound up with four co-winners. Find out more about each one below.
Accomplice has been thinking outside the box for years, but really kicked things up a notch recently. Adding to established programs like TUGG and the BOSS Syndicate, plus newer efforts like Rev Boston, in the past year Accomplice added Cack Wilhelm as its first female Partner, and launched Spearhead, a program designed to develop the local angel investor ecosystem by mentoring and seeding successful entrepreneurs. Add that to a stocked local portfolio — the firm led all NEVCA member VCs with nine(!) NEVY-nominated investments, including two winners (CA Veracode and Vesper) — and you get a firm that is firing on all cylinders.
If Accomplice is the poster child for explicit action, Canaan prefers the “walk softly and carry a big stick” approach. The bold stats on their website tell much of the story: 40% women and 47% immigrant or first generation American. And they’ve been at it for a long time: their GPs have an average of 12 years together. Given their geographic position (the East Coast office is in Connecticut), Canaan is playing a unique role in developing the regional ecosystem. Couple that with a portfolio making moves — the firm has 30(!) exits good for 5.2x ROI over the past 3 years, not to mention an $830M partnership for NEVY-nominated portfolio company Arvinas — and Canaan was a no-brainer for Fund of the Year.
With Flybridge, the pendulum swings back to overt action. Led by a partnership as active as any in local politics, the past few years have seen the launch of two targeted, Flybridge-affiliated funds: XFactor Ventures - led by women and investing in women, and The Graduate Syndicate investing in HBS-affiliated founders. Diving into the portfolio, 41% of last year’s investments were female-founded, and 25% immigrant-founded. Outside of venture, Flybridge is a founding supporter of Hack.Diversity (disclosure: and NEVCA program), helping solve Boston’s talent inefficiency by bringing Black and Latino talent into the high-tech workforce. Diving into investments beyond the Graduate Syndicate, a strong local focus and recent success plays again: Flybridge backed two NEVY-nominated companies in Feature Labs and Blink Security Camera, and last year saw portfolio company MongoDB graduate to the public markets with a strong IPO.
It’s not often you come across a VC firm with 26 exits, 6 unicorns, and 33% female founding general partners. Actually, you only come across it when you come across Oak HC/FT. With two of three founding GPs women, a quick glance through the website reveals a portfolio full of companies whose leadership teams reflect their investors. Oak HC/FT has been making outstanding investments in outstanding people while based in Connecticut, and the recent opening of a Boston office promises to bring more of the same even closer to home. Some of the highlights in that portfolio? How about 2018 NEVYs Digital Health Company of the Year Devoted Health, and past NEVY Awards standout and local success story athenahealth.
Congratulations again to all four of these funds. The NEVCA is excited about the work they’ve done, and the work they have ahead — and so too should the rest of New England!