Atlas to split life sciences, tech businesses
Cambridge-based venture capital firm Atlas Venture will split, with its life sciences and technology franchises becoming separate companies.
“After 35 years as a diversified fund, this new direction is not a decision we came to lightly,” Booth wrote. “It became clear to us that evolving towards two independent sector-focused funds was the best configuration going forward.”
The two sides had already been operating with increasing independence in recent years, Booth wrote, with each making its own investment, personnel, and marketing decisions.
Atlas has become known in recent years as one of the most active Boston-centric venture capital firms, its partners taking active roles at the nascent companies it invests in.
The split comes during heady days for Atlas, which has had a string of successes locally.
“Both sides have been thriving,” said C.A. Webb, the executive director of the New England Venture Capital Association. “They’re on every entrepreneurs’ list. Everyone wants to bring their deal to Atlas.”
The firm’s life sciences arm was a key backer of CoStim Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Cambridge company working on novel antibodies to fight cancers that was acquired by Novartis in February. It also invested heavily in local pharmaceutical company Zafgen, which is developing obesity treatments for patients with rare genetic disorders and went public earlier this year.
The life sciences team will keep the Atlas name, a spokesman said, while the tech team will stay in the current office space in East Cambridge.
Booth, who works on the life sciences team, did not respond to a request for comment. In a brief e-mail, technology-side partner Jeff Fagnan said, “the tech team isn’t talking on the split. It’s really business as usual for us and we don’t want to be distracted.”
Other players in the venture capital world said the split was a surprising, but wise move. It will allow each side to tailor its marketing and outreach efforts to their respective communities, which do not often overlap, they said. It also eliminates tensions over which side should receive priority.
“These are very, very disparate areas of practice that don’t gain very much from each other,” said Eric Paley, a managing partner of fellow seed-stage venture fund Founder Collective.
Paley said the split is part of a broader trend that has seen small and midsize venture capital companies increasingly specialize in particular sectors and investment stages.
“There are large venture groups out there, but you’re seeing a lot funds get away from being big financial services companies and focusing in on the craft of venture capital,” Paley said.
Atlas was once a much larger company, with more than $2 billion in assets and offices around the world. But it suffered from a lack of focus, its partners have since acknowledged. Stung by the bursting of the dot-com bubble and, later, the recession, Atlas contracted to one office in 2010 and refocused on investing in Boston-area companies.
Because the pared-down Atlas is now a significantly different company, Paley said the split might particularly benefit the technology group, which can now market under a new name and distance itself from the legacy brand.
The split might also let each side raise more money.
“Now, they can each go to investors they already have relationships with and double-raise from them,” Webb said. “It expands the pie.”
In his online posting, Booth promised the transition, which is expected to be completed next year, had been carefully planned to avoid disruptions to Atlas’s four current funds. He said the company first considered the split in 2013, after it closed a $265 million round of fund-raising.