Why the VC Firm 'Formerly Known as Atlas' Is Crowdsourcing for a New Name
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Many private-equity and venture capital firms have titles that convey power (think large rocks, trees, mountains followed by “ventures” or “partners”), or reference the tons of capital they raise. But Atlas Venture’s latest project is aiming to disrupt the industry’s nomenclature by crowdsourcing for a brand-new title.
Jeff Fagnan, a partner at the firm, says this is more than just a contest: “We aren’t the typical firm, we’re trying to make a unique mark on the craft and build a different brand in VC.”
The $2.8 billion Cambridge, Mass.-based firm (ranked 21 in Entrepreneur’s VC 100 list of top U.S. early-stage investors) announced last year that it would be splitting into two areas: life sciences and technology. The life science-focused segment would retain the Atlas name while the new tech group would rebrand with a new title.
To crowdsource the title, the firm today launched www.namefka.com (or name "Formerly Known as Atlas"). The firm's partners say they don’t want typical venture capital firm names because they find them “pretty stuffy.”
“They also don’t represent how we do VC,” adds Fagnan. “We aren’t up on a hill jumping into piles of money, we’re on the front lines with our entrepreneurs.”
Anyone, except the firm’s four partners (pictured above from left to right is Ryan Moore, Jeff Fagnan, Chris Lynch and Jon Karlen), are eligible to submit up to 10 ideas. The winner will receive a $50,000 investment in the new $200 million fund, which means as the fund returns a profit, the winner will receive a percentage of those profits, too.
“It’s as if he or she was a partner who invested $50,000 of their own money into fund,” says Fagnan.
There’s a catch though: That bounty will be divided so that $25,000 in “carry” will go to the winner and the other half will go to a New England nonprofit from the TUGG portfolio, a social enterprise platform Atlas founded in 2009.
While crowdsourcing is cool and all, why didn’t the firm’s inner circle simply brainstorm for their own title during an off-site, scenic retreat? Fagnan says the decision is part of a mission to continue changing with a fast-paced, evolving industry.
The firm’s partners say in the contest website:
There’s a stereotype about VCs that it’s an old boy’s club where a lot of rich white guys do things behind boardroom doors, keeping resources and information to themselves. We aren’t about that. We’re launching a new fund and a new brand, and we need a new name to sum it all up. We’re so close to our model of community-fueled venture that we’re relying on the community for our name. ”
The research labs of Harvard University, Tufts and MIT have kept Cambridge and the greater Boston area a hub for innovation in life sciences, and Atlas Venture has been close to this local economy since launching in 1980. But software, IT and ecommerce startups are also breathing new life into Boston’s startup environment.
“Biotech continues to boom here,” says Fagnan, “but the tech entrepreneurial startup scene is healthier than ever before in the Boston/New England area as younger entrepreneurs are trying to create things that are without parameters.”