Benchmark’s Matt Cohler Has Eye on Germany

Matt Cohler, general partner at Benchmark Capital in Menlo Park, Calif., recently participated in a Series B round in Berlin-based ResearchGate, a social networking site for scientists doing research.

The amount of the round, led by Luke Nosek, the Founders Fund partner and PayPal co-founder, with participation from Benchmark, Accel Partners, Bebo co-founder Michael Birch and Yammer Inc. founder and CEO David O. Sacks, was not disclosed.

Benchmark also led an undisclosed Series A round in the company, which also has a Cambridge, Mass.,-based office, in September 2010.

VCJ asked Cohler, who was one of the founding team members at LinkedIn and among the first five employees hired at Facebook in 2005, about the decision to co-locate ResearchGate’s headquarters in Berlin, and whether its investment in the company signals that the firm will be making more investments in Germany in the future.

Q. Are you looking at other investments in Germany?

A. I have looked at other startups in Berlin, but I haven’t pursued any investments there, though I have come close. ResearchGate is the only company that I have seen in Berlin that I went all the way to pursuing and making an investment. I would absolutely be open to more.

Q. How does the euro crisis affect your decision to invest in Europe?

A. That’s outside the scope of how I approach things.

Q. So, your focus is at the micro not macro level when it comes to investing?

A. Yes. We had a great entrepreneur addressing a really big and important market that has so far not been addressed. ResearchGate has 1.4 million scientists and researchers, and we’re adding more than 50,000 a month, with 11,000 institutions located in 103 countries participating, so it is extraordinary to see what’s occurred to date. The market is so enormous and so unaddressed that in some ways we’re still just getting started.

Q. Why did ResearchGate decide to locate in Berlin?

A. It made sense to have our primary operations based in Berlin. Ijad Madisch, the founder, has his Ph.D. from Germany, went to medical school in Hanover and was doing post doc work at Harvard Medical School, so he was splitting his time between Boston and Germany.

There is a lot of great, creative talent there. A lot of great engineering, design and product talent there, too. It’s a geographic and cultural crossroads, where you get people coming in from Eastern Europe as well Western Europe. The cost of living is significantly lower than a lot of other cities in Europe and the U.S. It’s an exciting time for the city for sure, and these things are always about ecosystems and networks, and there is a good ecosystem forming in Berlin. ResearchGate is an excellent example of that.

Q. Were you involved in the decision to co-locate ResearchGate in Berlin?

A. Ijad started this as a side project while doing his research at Harvard, and as often happens with great entrepreneurs, they start things out as side projects that turn out to be their primary focus. He was building something that he wanted to use himself, and when it became clear that he was going to focus on this and leave his research behind, he had to decide where would be the good places to do this, and we went to Berlin for the reasons that I have talked about.

Most of what we do is in Silicon Valley, but we’ll back entrepreneurs anywhere.