WALTHAM, Mass. – Alan Spoon, the former president and chief operating officer of The Washington Post Co. will join Polaris Venture Partners at the end of April as its ninth general partner.
Spoon, who was a limited partner in Polaris’s first fund, has served as a member of the firm’s advisory board for the last three and a half years. Polaris, which focuses on early-stage information technology and medical companies, was drawn to Spoon’s operating experience at The Washington Post Co., where, among other duties, he oversaw the company’s Internet investment program.
“The Internet’s ethos is to get big quickly, and to do that, companies need to build bridges to media companies and corporate America,” said Jonathan Flint, a general partner. “Alan will be a great bridge for companies.”
Polaris had been searching for an additional partner to source deals because of its growing capital under management. The firm held a first and final close in mid-January on its $800 million Polaris Venture Partners III (VCJ, March, page 34), which is 10 times the size of Polaris’ freshman effort. The vehicle will back approximately 45 companies in the United States and abroad.
Spoon joined The Washington Post Co., the parent company of The Washington Post, Newsweek magazine and Kaplan Inc. a provider of educational and career services, in 1982 as a vice president of planning and development. He recently made a number of venture investments for the parent company in the Internet space, including deals with Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch.com, Exchange.com and WebTv Networks, Inc.
The Washington Post Co.’s Internet investment program makes direct investments in start-ups and backs companies affiliated with The Washington Post Co., primarily in deals associated with Kaplan, said Spoon, who has been making venture-type investments for the company since 1982.
“We have taken $40 million of investments in the last few years and turned that into well over $100 million, and our entire portfolio of companies is now worth hundreds of millions,” he said. He added his experience as COO and president has prepared him to make the switch to venture capital. “I have been allocating capital, coaching, cheering on and nurturing businesses already. This is not very far removed from what a VC does.”
Spoon is expected to spend a fair amount of time scouting Washington, D.C.-based IT deals for Polaris, because of his knowledge of the D.C. and Northern Virgina technology community, Flint said. Spoon became involved in the IT community because of The Washington Post Co.’s aggressive efforts to cover this growing sector through its subsidiary, the Post-Newsweek Business Information Inc., which publishes trade magazines, organizes conferences and runs online sites devoted to the technology industry. The D.C. area is the latest hotbed for technology companies, with the district hosting an estimated 300,000 technology related jobs (VCJ, November 1999, page 5).
Polaris invests in a wide range of medical companies, including those dealing with genomics, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, as well as IT companies that focus on Internet infrastructure, Internet tools and applications, networking and e-commerce. The fund’s average deal size will be in the $15 million to $20 million range over several rounds of financing.
The new vehicle’s limited partners include existing LPs, the University of Virginia and Wilshire Associates and Columbia University as a new investor, Flint said. The fund had already made 10 investments totaling $75 million and there are several more deals are in the pipeline, he added.