Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TED Comes to Boston: Are You on the List?

A group of folks at Fidelity Investments are organizing a satellite edition of the famed TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Boston this month. TEDxBOSTON happens July 28th at Fidelity's conference center near South Station.

The idea of TEDx is that it's a TED-like gathering focused on high-quality speakers, but it's independently organized by local "friends of TED." TEDx is just a half-day long, while TED, held in California, runs for four days. And unlike the main TED event, which costs $6000 to attend (you must apply and be accepted), TEDx is free.

Sean Belka is the catalyst behind bringing TEDx to town; he's a senior vice president at Fidelity Investments who runs the Fidelity Center for Applied Technologies, where the financial services giant explores new ripples in tech. A regular attendee at TED, he tells me that "when they announced TEDx this past February, I was inspired by the TED mission of spreading ideas, since my role here is innovation. I basically thought that Boston would be a great venue, given all of the great ideas happening in Boston." Assisting Belka with TEDxBoston are Danielle Duplin, another Fidelity exec, and Matt Saiia, a one-time consultant at Fidelity who is now CEO at Collective Next.

Speaking at the event will be folks like Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander, Harvard chemist George Whitesides, and jazz educator Philippe Crettien. They'll also show a couple videos recorded at the "mother ship" TED, featuring people like Pattie Maes from MIT's Media Lab and Bennington College president Elizabeth Coleman.

"We haven't done a lot of promotion of TEDx," Belka says. They've reached out to past TED attendees in the Boston area, and also invited some other "people we thought would find this of interest." But word started to leak out about TEDxBoston on Twitter last week.

The event will top out at about 250 people. They're still accepting invitation requests on the site, and Belka told me today (Tuesday) that they "haven't yet gotten to a point where we've had to make hard choices," implying that the event isn't yet completely full.

While Fidelity is providing the venue, they're not an official sponsor of the event; Belka says the only sponsors, really, will be food and beverage companies that will be supplying refreshments.

And if one TEDx isn't enough for this town, it looks like a second TEDx -- this one in Cambridge -- is in the works for this fall.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fidelity Ventures: Ignore the Rumors, Everything's Fine

Regular readers of the blog know that I don't traffic in rumors... but I wanted to try to fact-check the info about Fidelity Ventures that I'd been hearing through the grapevine over the past week.

Four separate venture capitalists at local firms have told me that Fidelity is stepping back from its commitment to Fidelity Ventures, and looking for other limited partners who might want to put money into the next Fidelity Ventures fund. (Historically, Fidelity has been the lone LP backing Fidelity Ventures.)

"They debated shutting it down, but their intention is to raise another fund," the founder of one local VC firm told me. "My belief is that they're trying to go through a transition here from a Fidelity-controlled fund to one where it gets smaller, and Fidelity's commitments will be smaller." In 2007, Fidelity Ventures expanded the size of Fund IV from $250 million to $400 million; that's the fund they're currently investing out of.

Another managing partner at a different VC firm said he'd seen a number of resumes from Fidelity Ventures partners and associates. "The returns haven't really been there, and for Fidelity, VC and private equity may have just gotten too big and too expensive," he said.

"They've started a process to explore how they might raise traditional capital," said another managing partner. "These one-LP models don't tend to perform very well." (None of these VCs wanted to be named, since many of them have worked or may work with Fidelity Ventures at some point.)

The rumor mill also has it that Rob Ketterson, the managing partner at Fidelity Ventures, has been stepping back from an active investing role (he currently serves on just one board), and partner Larry Cheng has been taking more of a leadership role. (An aside: Ketterson is married to Elizabeth Johnson, one of Fidelity chairman Ned Johnson's daughters.)

Fidelity Ventures' two most recent investments, in Stylesight and Vibes Media, were made last September. On TheFunded.com, a "No New Investments Warning" has been posted, alerting entrepreneurs that TheFunded has received "information that [Fidelity Ventures] may not be making investments into new portfolio companies." The firm's most recent exit seems to be the sale, last April, of broadband cable solutions provider Jacobs Rimell to Amdocs for $45 million.

When I called up Fidelity Ventures partner Larry Cheng on Tuesday, he told me that "things are fine," before suggesting that I talk to managing partner Rob Ketterson for more detail. But Fidelity didn't make Ketterson available, instead dispatching spokesperson Adam Banker.

In response to my questions, Banker said that like many other venture firms, Fidelity Ventures is "taking a cautious stance" with regard to new investments, adding, "We have capital to invest." There have been "no significant changes" in staffing, he said, and "all the partners are still here." Finally, Banker said, Fidelity has "never approached limited partners outside Fidelity" to put money into Fidelity Ventures. (Update: Banker says Fidelity made another A round investment in late Q4, without disclosing the company.)

"When things are good and your liquidity events are such that you're making money and you don't require a lot of money from corporate, everyone loves [venture capital]," says Howard Anderson, ex-VC turned MIT lecturer, talking about corporate VC initiatives. "But when you've got cash calls all over the place, and you haven't had a liquidity event since the last ice age, the treasurer asks what's going on." Anderson continued, "If Fidelity [the parent company] was doing really well, this wouldn't make too much difference. But if Fidelity is facing redemptions, looking at cost-cutting, and needing more money for advertising, this becomes a visible thing."

(I'd been developing this as a Globe column, but since Fidelity says there's nothing to the rumors, this seems unworthy of further treatment...)

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Which Boston Companies Do New MBAs Want to Work For?

Fortune has a list of the top 25 employers new MBAs say they want to work for.

On the list are lots of "usual suspects" -- every big-name investment bank and consulting firm, plus Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

The only two Boston companies to make the list? (I'll save you some clicking.) Boston Consulting Group (#5) and Bain (#6).

Fortune also publishes a longer list of 100 companies that appeal to MBA recipients... which includes two more Boston companies: Fidelity Investments, at #45, and Monitor Group, at #87.

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