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Entrepreneurs speak their mind on venture firms

Highlights from Scott Kirsner's Innovation Economy blog.

Entrepreneurs often get a chance to hear the opinions of venture capitalists — especially when they're hunting for money.

So it was an interesting role reversal when the New England Venture Capital Association commissioned a survey over the summer to learn what entrepreneurs think of them, and the current state of Boston's start-up ­ecosystem.

"It was very much an experiment," says C.A. Webb, the Cambridge organization's executive director. "But we wanted to establish a baseline so that we can repeat the survey every year."

The group surveyed 111 entrepreneurs who said they were planning to raise capital, were doing so, or had done so within the past two years. The respondents came from a mix of industries.


Some of the opinions were surprising, but others can be heard any time you convene two entrepreneurs near an open bar. Among the results:

 Respondents said that for starting companies in biotech, healthcare, robotics, and educational technology, Boston is better than Silicon Valley or New York. But when it comes to consumer-facing products, Boston is seen as a far weaker base than the Valley or Manhattan — ranked tops by just 1 percent. Respondents also said they perceived the Valley as a slightly better place than Boston for storage, “big ­data,” and cleantech start-ups.

­  Silicon Valley was rated higher than ­Boston on numerous dimensions relevant to entrepreneurs, such as access to talent, access to peers for advice, and number of angel investors and venture capitalists.

So where did Boston prevail? On access to an academic community, access to office space, and overall lifestyle and livability. The one category where New York beat both Boston and Silicon Valley was, of course, "social scene, nightlife, and culture."

 “Access to talent” was rated as the biggest strength of Boston’s start-up scene; “conservative VCs and lack of early-stage funding” were the biggest weaknesses.

 Where do entrepreneurs get fund-raising advice? Forty-five percent of respondents said from peers, 19 percent from prior investors, and 18 percent from “surveys, published reports, and blogs.”

 Respondents were asked to complete the following sentence: “Changes I would like to see in Boston’s start-up community include: ___ .” Among the answers were “more press coverage,” “getting the T to stay open later,” “cheaper residential options,” and more “open-minded” venture capitalists. My favorite quote: “Less whining, more winning!”

Individuals enhancing start-up scene A new group of individual investors is injecting extra fuel into the start-up scene. But SideCar Angels won't accept business plans or solicit pitches from entrepreneurs. Instead, it will add its capital to investments that have gotten the green light from other local angel groups and smaller venture capital funds.

The group has invested in ezCater.com, a referral site for catering services, alongside LaunchPad Venture Group.

The group has a "central fund" of about $100,000, slices of which can go to investment opportunities approved by the group's members, who can also invest personal funds.

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit www.boston.com/innovation.