Thinking About Thinking

Harvard Business School Is Taking Over Boston VCs – For Better Or Worse?

Posted in Venture Capital by larrycheng on October 18, 2009

Take a look at the middle tier of most Boston VCs – and what will you find in abundance?  Harvard Business School (HBS) grads.  Here’s a smattering of folks you can find with HBS degrees, including two of our own:

  • Rob Go, Spark Capital
  • Jon Lim, Polaris Venture Partners
  • Ryan Woodley, Polaris Venture Partners
  • Irena Goldberg, Highland Capital
  • Amanda Herson, Highland Consumer Fund
  • Jesse Feldman, Battery Ventures
  • Dayna Grayson, North Bridge Venture Partners
  • Cali Tran, North Bridge Venture Partners
  • Matt Witheiler, Flybridge Capital Partners
  • Geraldine Alias, Fidelity Ventures
  • Sean Cantwell, Fidelity Ventures
  • And on and on….

Now let’s look at the graduate school education some of the more established VCs in Boston:

  • Todd Dagres, Spark Capital – MBA, Boston University
  • Scott Tobin, Battery Ventures – no MBA
  • Dave Tabors, Battery Ventures – no MBA
  • Rob Soni, Matrix Partners – no MBA
  • Bob Davis, Highland Capital – MBA, Babson College
  • Dan Nova, Highland Capital – MBA, Harvard Business School
  • Dave Barrett, Polaris Venture Partners – no MBA
  • Joel Cutler, General Catalyst – JD, Boston College
  • John Simon, General Catalyst – MA, Oxford University
  • David Fialkow, General Catalyst – JD, Boston College
  • Mike Zak, CRV – MBA, Harvard Business School
  • Anne Mitchell, Fidelity Ventures – no MBA

Over the last 10 years, venture capital has become a more mature industry (meaning more job opportunities) and a highly desired career path for business school grads.  When I joined the venture industry in 1998, there were probably <10 non-partner positions in the Boston VC community altogether.  Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find individual firms with 5–10+ non-partner positions.  Back in 1998, the typical HBS grad probably wanted to do investment banking or consulting.  These days – it’s hedge funds and private equity (VC & LBO).  Put that altogether, and it makes logical sense that HBS grads are far more prevalent in the Boston VC community than they were 10 or 20 years ago.  It’s the end result of every Boston VC firm that has a job opening going to HBS and aiming to hire the best of the best.

But, what does this mean for how the Boston VC culture will change over the next 10 years as opposed to where it came from the past 10–20 years?  What does it mean if a preponderance of Boston VCs all have the same educational training?  My guess is that both generations will find their own success, but perhaps their success will be for different reasons.  Perhaps the “HBS Generation” will succeed due to pure analytical horsepower and smarts.  Perhaps the present/past generation found success due more to creativity and courage.  It’s hard and ultimately unfair to generalize, but I have to think that things will change – maybe not better or worse – just different.