Reality TV Looking for a Few Good VCs, Lotto Winner Could Be an LP –

Donald Trump milked his 15 minutes and then some for introducing business themes to reality TV on The Apprentice. Now, Virgin Records founder Richard Branson and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will soon head up their own TV shows.

Next to become reality TV celebs: venture capitalists.

Spike TV inked a deal with LivePlanet, the production company co-founded by actors Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and others, to produce American Start-Up. The show will feature eight entrepreneurs. Each will receive $50,000 in seed capital and will compete for a larger investment at the conclusion of the series. The show is slated to premiere on Spike TV in mid 2005.

The contestants will be advised each week by a panel that the cable channel says will be made up of “successful entrepreneurs, business tycoons and venture capitalists.” We emailed a few VCs to inquire if they were invited to say “You’re fired!” or whatever catchphrase American Start-Up comes up with.

One VC responded to say he had been too busy with recent dealmaking to know anything about the program. But he speculated that the only VCs who would participate would have to be those working part-time or “had stepped back from their funds as they might have the time for something like that.”

Lotto Winner Possible LP?

Mobius Venture Capital of Palo Alto, Calif., may one day have the California Lottery to thank for a new LP. Mary Bush, an executive administrator at Mobius, has been helping her father-in-law Charles “Chuck” Bush, 71, handle the enormity of his new-found fortunes.

On a whim, Bush bought a California Lottery SuperLotto Plus ticket in July while stopping off at a Coachella gas station in Riverside County. Though not a regular Lotto buyer, the Northern Californian threw caution to the wind and bought $5 worth of quick picks. He beat the odds, winning $44 million with the numbers 7, 11, 20, 30, 35 and meganumber 4. Bush was planning to take the money in one lump sum, an estimated $17 million haul after taxes. Bush joked that he would spend the money “semi-wisely,” beginning with a license plate frame that says, “I’m spending my kid’s inheritance.”

Mobius Managing Director Heidi Roizen, who has worked with Mary since the mid-1990s, says the lottery success couldn’t have happened to a nicer and more deserving family. Roizen did not say whether Chuck Bush was going to become an LP in any future Mobius Fund. “We are not fund-raising till later in ’05, but I know where to find Mary,” Roizen says with a laugh.

Picture Draws Attention

St. Paul Venture Capital had been planning for nearly a year to split into two independent firms, but no one gave much thought to what to call the new entities. In the meantime, St. Paul’s Westborough, Mass.-based office commissioned some artwork to brighten up its drab quarters. The paintings included a large portrait of the Split Rock Lighthouse, a Minnesota landmark located on the banks of Lake Superior.

When the paintings arrived, no one complained about the work’s quality. But there was confusion over the subject matter. The soon-to-split firm had just decided on new names, with the Westborough folk taking Vesbridge Partners and the other team – located in Minneapolis and Menlo Park, Calif. – naming itself Split Rock Partners. In a gesture of goodwill, Vesbridge Partners presented the lighthouse painting as a gift to its brethren. Split Rock Partners subsequently hung it in its Minneapolis lobby.

Mr. Chips Goes to Washington

Ta-Lin Hsu and H&Q Asia Pacific are among the more politically attuned venture firms in the country, staffed with such advisory board members as Laura Tyson, former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors and William Perry, former Secretary of Defense.

But if the Democrats get Sen. John Kerry elected, the reach of H&QAP may extend directly to the White House. Mark Hsu, son of the firm’s founder, took a leave of absence from his vice president post at H&QAP so he could help the Democratic nominee pull in the Asian-American vote. Hsu has been organizing community events nationwide for Kerry in Seattle, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Boston, New York and California.

Part of the work has brought son Mark a lot of personal time with the Senator. So if the Demos win, look for H&QAP to have prominent seats at the January inauguration.

Misconception: VCs Can Sing

The Woodside Fund of Redwood Shores, Calif., wrapped up Fund V earlier this year at $146 million. So the partners haven’t had much free time lately. Still, Partner Tom Shields has managed to find time to relax and sing with a cappella groups around the Bay Area.

Shields recently also started www. venturewiki.com, a site sponsored by Woodside as a social networking portal for VCs and entrepreneurs. It’s a work in progress, but one of the features includes a list of common misconceptions. The page denies that VCs want to control companies. But it does own up to one truth: VCs are impossible to get on the phone. The Web site offers a reason: schedules of VCs are filled with meetings.