What Financial Crisis? Highland’s 20th Hearkens to Days of the Bubble

A basketball hoop in the Museum of Science lobby, teams of entrepreneurs playing 3 on 3. Boston Celtics cheerleaders rooting them on. A rockin’ band. Shots of blueberry martinis doled out in test tubes. A contortionist—yes, a female contortionist in a skin-tight body suit.

Did I just go through a time warp, I wondered? This was 2008, not 1998, wasn’t it? Bill Bulkeley of the Wall Street Journal was standing next to me and put it best: “A pre-bubble party in a post-bubble economic environment.”

Welcome to Highland Capital Partners’ 20th anniversary bash. It was held last night—pre-debate—and it truly would have impressed even Silicon Valley firms. Scores of representatives from Highland’s past and present portfolio companies were on hand—some taking part in the 3 on 3 tourney (owater edged City Sports in the championship). To inspire them perhaps, Highland venture partner Wyc Grousbeck, who’s also managing partner, governor (yes, governor), and CEO of the Celtics, even brought over the C’s championship trophy and put it on display next to the court.

But whether you like hoops or not, it was a wild, impressive, crazy, head-shaking affair. And the crowd clearly loved it. “I heard this is the greatest concentration of Boston entrepreneurs ever,” one person told me. There was no way, of course, to verify this. But hats off to Highland for shaking us, at least for an evening, out of our economic doldrums.
Highland party contortionistThe only pall over the bash might have been the fact the vice presidential debate was closing fast, causing me, for one, to forego the blueberry martini shots and head home early. But I spoke to a lot of great people, including Highland general partner Paul Maeder and Tom Stemberg, founder of Staples and managing general partner of Highland’s consumer fund. Another great new face for me was Sallie Shuping Russell, now of BlackRock in Durham, NC, and previously the superstar head of the private investment portfolio for Duke University, which invested in one of Highland’s funds. She said she could get me tickets to a Duke or North Carolina basketball game—but that might have been after I mentioned Xconomy might some day open in Research Triangle Park (in any case, I think I’ll have to go down and evaluate our expansion soon). [Editor’s note: Bob is of course joking here, and would never accept an extravagant freebie from a source or potential source. Right Bob?]

Here are notes from some of my conversations, most of them having to do with the current financial muck:

—From John Landry, CEO of Lead Dog Ventures, an Xconomist, and former CTO of Lotus Development: “The venture business is potentially turning into not that great a business, because there aren’t that many places to sell their businesses.” (Well, that was the amended version … Next Page »

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

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