Regression to the meh
What’s wrong with Boston?
I’ve been getting that question ever since moving back here 13 years ago. It’s usually from entrepreneurs or venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, wondering how the home of Route 128, Harvard and MIT seems to keep missing out on the next big thing. If Digital Equipment Corp. and Wang Labs made it here, how come companies like Facebook and Dropbox left?
The stock answer has been that our Yankee heritage has gotten the better of us. We’re always preparing for the next winter, too focused on what we know is next to consider what could be next. Pessimism-tinged realism in an era otherwise filled with technological marvels that were willed into being by unbridled optimism.
But I honestly had believed that things here had begun to change. There seemed to be a groundswell of “Valley-like” entrepreneurship, complete with the requisite networking events (there’s nearly one per night now) and tangible support from elected officials. It’s the reason I’ve spent the past several years answering the “What’s wrong with Boston?” question by saying that the only thing wrong was how long it took us to get things right.
And then came the Olympics.
Well, not literally. The 2024 Olympic Games haven’t come here yet, and seem less likely to arrive with each passing day. What once was little more than an aspirational pipe-dream has quickly morphed into a community piñata, much to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chagrin.
According to recent poll numbers, more Boston-area voters are against the Summer Games coming to Boston in 2024 than are for it. And these results come even as virtually all of the city’s major political and business figures are in favor, and the opposition has been led by a trio of unpaid, unknown 20-somethings.
To be sure, there are some very good reasons for folks to want the Olympics to stay away. For starters, under IOC rules, the state (read: local taxpayers) would basically have to backstop any financial overruns. Moreover, supporters have yet to put forth the type of granular plan — finances, logistics, infrastructure — that residents must be allowed to analyze before welcoming the world to their doorstep.
But those aren’t the concerns I hear from friends and family, or on local talk radio. Instead, it’s complaints about how Boston just isn’t big enough or competent enough to pull it off. If we couldn’t even keep the subway system running this past winter, how are we supposed to handle the massive influx of tourists? If we couldn’t build a tunnel without becoming the butt of a national joke, how are we supposed to quickly build a temporary stadium that seats 60,000, or any of the other required facilities? And what about the traffic?
It’s the old Yankee mentality all over again. Whatever could go wrong will go wrong, without bothering to deeply analyze the dollars or the sense. And why do we need all this fancy stuff anyway?
As I said, there are some very serious problems with the Boston 2024 bid. But, to me, the larger issue is what the popular unpopularity seems to suggest about our city. We’re still hostage to our own neuroses, and it must be even more evident to outsiders (including investors and prospective entrepreneurs). It’s why the odds are so long that the next great tech company will be built here.
Unless… well, unless we host the Olympics. I think we may really need beach volleyball on Boston Common to prove to ourselves that we can accomplish great things that initially seem too daunting.
So here is my hope: Boston’s Olympics boosters get their act together, and realize that they have leverage with an IOC that really wants an American host city. Get the taxpayer guarantee to go away. Provide a detailed plan that can be analyzed and improved. Win the bid.
Then, and perhaps only then, will Boston be in the proper cultural condition to capitalize on its hometown advantages in the innovation economy. Even if it’s a few decades delayed.
THE BIG DEAL
• Tony Ressler, co-founder of Ares Management, is leading an investor group that has agreed to acquire NBA franchise The Atlanta Hawks and its home arena for around $730 million (plus $120m in assumed debt).
Other members of the investor group include ex-NBA player Grant Hill, Marquis Jets co-founder Jesse Itzler, Spanx Inc. founder Sara Blakely and Clayton Dubilier & Rice partner Richard Schnall. Read more.
VENTURE CAPITAL DEALS
• Jounce Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of cancer immunotherapies coupled to patient selection strategies, has raised $56 million in Series B funding. Investors include Wellington Management Co., Redmile Group, Nextech Invest, Pharmstandard International, Cormorant Asset Management, Omega Funds, Casdin Capital and Foresite Capital Management. Read more.
• iFlix, a Netflix-like service for Southeast Asia, has raised $30 million in VC funding. Catcha Group (Malaysia) and PLDT (Philippines). Read more.
• Smule, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based mobile developer of music applications and games, has raised $26 million in new VC funding led by Adams Street Partners, according to the WSJ. It previously raised around $42 million from Roth Capital Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Granite Ventures and Shasta Ventures. Read more.
• Craftsvilla, an India-based e-commerce site for ‘ethnic products’, has raised $18 million in Series B funding. Sequoia Capital led the round, and was joined by Nexus Venture Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Global Founders Capital. Read more.
• Swirl Networks Inc., a Boston-based indoor mobile marketing platform, has raised $18 million in Series C funding. Backers include Hearst Ventures, SoftBank Capital, Twitter Ventures and firm Longworth Venture Partners. Read more.
• Simplilearn, an India-based provider of certification courses to professionals, has raised $15 million in Series C funding. Mayfield led the round, and was joined by Kalaari Capital and Helion Venture Partners. www.simplilearn.com
• 3D Robotics, a Berkeley, Calif.-based maker of personal drones, has raised $14 million in new Series C funding. WestSummit Capital led the round expansion, and was joined by such investors as SanDisk Ventures and Atlantic Bridge Ventures. The round total is now $64 million. 3drobotics.com
• Scalyr, as Grandville, Mich.-based log-monitoring service for app developers, has raised $2.1 million in seed funding. Susa Ventures led the round, and was joined by Bloomberg Beta, Google Ventures and Sherpalo Ventures. www.scalyr.com
• Minube, a Spanish online travel platform, has raised €1.5 million in new VC funding. Fundacion José Manuel Entrecanales (FIDES) led the round, and was joined by return backers Kibo Ventures and Bonsai Venture Capital. www.minube.net
• Honey, an enterprise social intranet platform, has raised $1 million in seed funding from Point Nine Capital. www.honey.is
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• ADA Cosmetics International, a German maker of hotel cosmetics, has agreed to acquire Scandinavian Amenities AS, a provider of hotel cosmetics for the Scandinavian market. No financial terms were disclosed, except that the deal is being supported by existing ADA Cosmetics shareholder Ardian. www.ada-cosmetics.com
• Authentic Brands Group, a portfolio company of Leonard Green & Partners, has acquired fashion brand Jones New York from Sycamore Partners for an undisclosed amount. Read more.
• Berkshire Partners is in advanced talks to acquire Implus Corp., a Durham, N.C.-based maker of footwear accessories, from Trilantic Capital Partners for more than $600 million, according to Reuters. Read more.
• Compeat Restaurant Management Systems, an Austin, Texas–based provider of accounting and back office software to restaurants, has raised an undisclosed amount of equity funding from Serent Capital. www.compeat.com
• Preston Hollow Capital LLC, a Dallas-based municipal finance specialty origination platform, has secured a $175 million equity investment commitment from Stone Point Capital. www.phcllc.com
• Sage Automotive Interiors, a Greenville, S.C.-based portfolio company of Clearlake Capital Group, has acquired Miko, an Italian maker of suede-like automotive interior fabrics. No financial terms were disclosed. www.sageautomotiveinteriors.com
• Shock Doctor, a Minnetonka, Minn.–based maker of athletic performance and protective equipment, has merged with McDavid, a Woodridge, Ill.-based provider of sports medicine, protection equipment, and performance apparel. No financial terms were disclosed. Shark Doctor is a portfolio company of Bregal Partners, which will remain a shareholder in the combined company. www.shockdoctor.com
• Canon’s (Tokyo: 7751) European unit has acquired Lifecake, a London-based photo-sharing app for parents with young kids. No financial terms were disclosed. Lifecake had been seeded by such investors as Balderton Capital. Read more.
• CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) has acquired Orchestrate, a Portland, Ore.–based fully-managed database service for application development. No financial terms were disclosed. Orchestrate had raised around $3 million in VC funding from EPIC Ventures, Frontline Ventures, Team Ventures and True Ventures. www.centurylink.com
• Fyber GmbH, a German mobile advertising tech company owned by RNTS Media NV, has agreed to acquire Falk Realtime Ltd., a German programmatic ad tech startup, for €10.75m in cash and shares. Sellers will include Revel Partners. www.fyber.com
• MakeMyTrip (Nasdaq: MMYT) has acquired Mygola, a Chevy Chase, Md.–based online travel guide. No financial terms were disclosed. Mygola investors had included 500 Startups, Blumberg Capital and Helion Venture Partners. www.mygola.com
• Riverstone Holdings and The Carlyle Group have hired Evercore Partners to find a buyer for Niska Gas Storage Partners (NYSE: NKA), in which they hold a majority equity stake, according to Bloomberg. Niska’s current market cap is just $85 million (with a balance sheet that includes $827m in debt), compared to the $1.5 billion Riverstone and Carlyle paid to acquire in back in 2006. Read more.
• Arris Group (Nasdaq: ARRS) has agreed to acquire UK set-top box maker Pace PLC (LSE: PIC) for $2.1 billion in cash and stock. The transaction is structured as a tax inversion, with Georgia-based Arris planning to reincorporate in Britain. Read more.
• DuPont (NYSE: DD) has agreed to acquire Taxon Biosciences, a Tiburon, Calif.-based developer of microbes for the agriculture, life sciences and oil and gas industries. No financial terms were disclosed. Read more.
• NCR (NYSE: NCR), a Duluth, Ga.-based maker of ATMs and cash registers, is exploring strategic options that could include a sale of the company, according to the WSJ. The company has a current market cap of around $5 billion and an enterprise value of $8.2 billion. Read more.
• United Community Banks Inc. (Nasdaq: UCBI) has agreed to acquire Palmetto Bancshares Inc. (Nasdaq: PLMT) for $240.5 million in cash and stock. South Carolina-based Palmetto has $1.2 billion in total assets under management. www.ucbi.com
FIRMS & FUNDS
• KKR reported $599.4 million in economic net income for Q1 2015, compared to $630.3 million in net income for Q1 2014. For the quarter ending March 31, 2015, the fair value of KKR’s private equity portfolio appreciated 5.1%. www.kkr.com
MOVING IN, UP, ON & OUT
• The Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board (PRIM) has promoted Sarah Samuels to deputy chief investment officer. In related news, COO and CFO Tom Hanna is leaving the $62 billion pension system, and will be replaced on an interim basis by David Gurtz. Read more.
• TA Associates has told LPs that managing directors Kurt Jaggers and Roger Kafker will shift into advisory roles later this year, according to peHUB. Read more.
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