Marshall Scholar 5 Questions with Michael Elias

Michael Elias — Managing Director, Kennet Partners Ltd. in London

  1. How did your experience in the UK impact your life?

I originally expected my two-year stint as a Marshall Scholar at Cambridge to be a short interlude in an academic career centered in the US. Things turned out very differently. What began as curiosity about a country both so similar and so different to the US, grew into a deep affection for the UK. After resuming studies in the US at the end of my scholarship, I soon returned to Britain. For much of the past 30 years the UK has been my home and I now have a British passport, having become a dual citizen of the US and UK.

I have had a career in the venture capital business and from the start I have focused on the UK-US axis. In 1997, I created Kennet Partners, based in London and Silicon Valley. We have a particular interest in British technology companies that seek to expand internationally, including in the United States.

2. How did becoming a Marshall Scholar help get you to where you are today?

My time as a Marshall Scholar gave me an appreciation for the rigor of the science that was being conducted in the UK. I also developed strong personal relationships and an appreciation for the history and culture of the UK that made me want to live in Britain. At the same time, the US was and remains the world’s largest market for technology products and services. My job requires me to have ‘one foot on each continent’. In my business, I often find it useful to have a US perspective on things British and visa versa!

3. What was your fondest memory of the UK? (or time as a Marshall)

When I arrived in the UK as a new Marshall Scholar in October 1981, the UK was much more ‘exotic’ to an American than it is today. Food, clothing, high street brands, and the media, were all profoundly different from their American equivalents. I’m very happy that I was able to live in Britain while these differences were still so marked. Thatcher was Prime Minister and the Falklands War began soon after our arrival. It was a very interesting time both socially and politically.

4. What do you think was the biggest difference between British and American cultures and how did your experience shape your views on the relationship between the US and UK?

In 1981, British and American cultures were probably further apart than they are today. 35 years ago, Britain still celebrated the amateur and the dilettante in a way that has since diminished. In my academic department, being ‘keen’ (as in enthusiastic) was frowned upon. The UK Press tended to criticize successful entrepreneurs and there was a general skepticism about business and those that chose a career in commerce.

Things have changed dramatically. Today, the UK has a highly entrepreneurial culture, with Britain creating the highest number of start-ups in Europe. These world-class businesses are staffed with incredibly hard-working teams of ‘keen’ individuals!

5. What would you say to students who are thinking about applying for the Marshall Scholarship?

Do it. I’ve met many Marshall Scholars over the years and I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t feel that their time in the UK broadened their perspective — often in unexpected ways.

Michael has been at the forefront of the development of European technology private equity as it grew from a fledgling niche into the multi-billion dollar market it is today. He has been a member of the Executive Committee of the European Venture Capital Association (EVCA) and chaired its Venture Capital Committee from 2002 to 2006.

Michael has a particular interest in Internet business models and capital-efficient semiconductor businesses. He has led Kennet’s investments in data-driven mobile app marketing platform Trademob, data collection services provider to the healthcare industry WorldOne, online performance marketing services provider Next Performance (acquired by Rakuten), online advertising network Adviva Media (acquired by Specific Media), online video advertising specialist GoViral (acquired by AOL Inc.), WiMAX chip business Sequans, semiconductor IP vendor Chipidea (acquired by MIPS) and oversaw Kennet’s investment in cloud-based environmental, health and safety software vendor Rivo Software and wireless audio chip business STS (acquired by SMSC).

Michael also led Kennet’s investment in Paragon Software (acquired by Openwave), Altitun (acquired by ADC Telecommunications), No Wires Needed (acquired by Intersil), Monis (acquired by Sungard Data Systems), and Ubizen (acquired by Cybertrust).

Michael founded Kennet in 1997. Earlier, he was responsible for establishing the international operations of Thompson Clive & Partners in California and Paris.

Michael holds a B.A. with highest honours from Harvard University, and received an M.Sc. from Cambridge University where he was a Marshall Scholar.

Born in the United States, Michael has lived in several European countries and speaks fluent French.