What do celebrity atheists do in Silicon Valley? Apparently, they drink wine and dine on tri-tip and halibut with venture capitalists.
David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners hosted a dinner this summer for Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, a pair of authors who he says are “probably the world’s two most influential living atheists.”
Oxford biologist Dawkins, who penned “The God Delusion,” had put in an appearance at Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park, Calif., where he fielded questions from what Cowan described as a very pro-atheist audience. Hitchens, author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” joined Dawkins for the post book-signing dinner party that was prepared by celebrity chef Hugh Schick.
The epicurean affair brought the two authors together for the first time to collaborate on responses to their common critics, says Cowan, a self-described atheist. While their views seem to stir up controversy wherever they travel, the writers have an easier time fitting in in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is apparently a hub for VCs as well as activist non-believers. Perhaps the most famous group of this persuasion “Atheists of Silicon Valley,” is based in Mountain View, Calif., and operates the website GodlessGeeks.com.
DFJ: Split over Mitt
Although it’s still early in the presidential race, partners at Draper Fisher Jurvetson have already made clear their preferences: They’re supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney… and of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, too.
DFJ partners Tim Draper and Jennifer Fonstad have contributed to the Romney campaign this spring, as did Bill Draper of Draper Richards, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the Federal Election Commission campaign contribution receipts. However, DFJ Partners John Fisher and Steve Jurveston have opened their wallets for the Obama campaign.
The contributions reflect a longstanding split on party lines. Fonstad’s ties to Romney date back to the early 1990s, when she worked on his Massachusetts campaign for governor. For the Drapers, donations to Romney, co-founder of Bain Capital, follow a lengthy record of contributions to Republican candidates.
Jurvetson, on the other hand, previously donated to John Kerry’s campaign, and Fisher previously contributed to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Meanwhile, Obama, who surprised campaign trackers in the first half of the year by out fund-raising Hillary Clinton, seems to be gaining further traction with Silicon Valley VCs. Sequoia Capital’s Michael Moritz donated $2,300 to the Obama campaign this spring. Obama is also getting help from venture investor Steve Westly, the former eBay executive and California state controller who is co-chairing the Illinois senator’s California campaign.
Howard’s the man!
As TheFunded.com gains traction among entrepreneurs, venture capitalists are stepping up their efforts to respond to critical comments posted on the website. After an entrepreneur on TheFunded.com called him rude and arrogant, Howard Hartenbaum, a partner at San Francisco-based Draper Richards, emailed nearly three dozen entrepreneurs he had worked with to post responses, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Hartenbaum—the first VC investor in Skype and No. 19 on this year’s Forbes Midas List—says that he asked the entrepreneurs to write only honest feedback. The result was a bevy of positive comments, including one that said, “Howard’s the man!”
“I thought I was a nice guy,” Hartenbaum told the Journal. “Nobody likes to be thought of as an ass.”
Unions square off
Venture capital firm Union Square Ventures and the buyout firm Union Square Partners are located within spitting distance of each other in New York and that proximity is too close for comfort. This summer, the VC firm filed suit against the buyout shop for trademark infringement over the use of the similar name. The suit, which is still pending, states that entrepreneurs and LPs are confusing the two firms.
The VC firm has used the name since 2003 when it began to raise a $125 million early stage fund to invest in IT-enabled services in the media, financial, health care and telecom sectors. In its response to the court, Union Square Partners (f.k.a. Capital Z Financial Services) says it has been using the similar-sounding name since early 2006. The buyout firm is currently raising a $500 million buyout fund to invest in the insurance and financial services industries, and at least one interested LP has contacted the VC firm wanting to invest.
While the buyout firm could have chosen a more original name when it rebranded itself, this is not the only example of a PE and a VC firm sharing common monikers. The difference here is that Union Square Ventures and Union Square Partners are located less than one-quarter mile from one another, according to Google maps.
Cardinal Ventures is in Indianapolis and Cardinal Partners is in Princeton, N.J.; Saratoga Ventures is in Saratoga, Calif., and Saratoga Partners is in New York; and Access Capital Partners is in France and Access Venture Partners is in Westminister, Colo.