Workshop Tackles the $64M Question: Is Boston’s Venture Ecosystem Losing More Ground to Silicon Valley?

Is the Boston venture capital community losing some of its edge? Vinit Nijhawan is concerned it might be. Starting at noon today, a select group of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, venture fund investors, and others will join the Xconomist for an invitation-only workshop at Boston University’s School of Management to take a critical look at the local venture climate—and its future.

The confab is billed as Exploring Regional Venture Capital Models, but it really seems focused on East Coast vs. West Coast venture styles. I spoke with Nijhawan last night about what he has in mind for the off-the-record session, which will include a luncheon keynote by Highland Capital Partners’ Paul Maeder and panels on IT, cleantech, and health care investing. “There’s this general feeling that the Boston-area venture capital ecosystem is in decline relative to Silicon Valley, and the purpose of this workshop really is to debate that,” he told me.

Even if you’re on the side that says Boston’s keeping pace just fine, you have to believe there are ways to make the local venture system work better. One of his most important goals, Nijhawan says, “is to see if we can get some actionable policy coming out of the workshop.” What, he wants to know, can universities, state government, and venture firms do to make venture work better in this area?

Nijhawan notes, for example, that the West Coast firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers recently launched a dedicated venture fund for iPhone applications. “You don’t see that kind of innovation in the venture capital business model here in Boston. Part of the goal is, [to ask,] do we need to tweak the business model to get us back in the game?”

Other questions likely to be posed include:

—Are Boston funds achieving the same return rates as Silicon Valley firms?
—Is the make-up of Boston venture partners different from those in Silicon Valley and how does that translate to fund performance?
—Are the best entrepreneurial PhDs from Boston schools migrating to California?
—Does Boston have a relative advantage in life sciences?
—Will Silicon Valley take a leadership position in the emerging cleantech opportunity?
—Are co-investment opportunities richer in one geography vs. the other?

Nijhawan has been both an entrepreneur and a venture capitalist, so he has a wealth of perspective on the issue. He promised to share some of what he learns in the workshop in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, you can read more about his time as a VC in his recent post, A Walk on the Dark Side. He’ll be trying to shed more light on venture capital practices today..

Bob is Xconomy's founder and chairman. You can email him at Follow @bbuderi

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