New VC in Boston: Arch Venture Partners Opens Small Office With Eye Toward Basic Science, Multidisciplinary Collaborations

[Updated, Sept. 22, 11:15 am. See end of story] You might have seen Alex Rives around town in the past year, particularly if you’ve spent time hanging out at coffee shops near MIT, Harvard Medical School, and other bastions of basic research. He’s the one invariably wearing dark jeans and a sport coat over a t-shirt—and sporting a light Don Johnson beard.

Rives is a rising star associate with Arch Venture Partners in Seattle—or, rather he used to be in Seattle. Rives has just opened Arch’s first East Coast office here in Boston. It turns out that he’s actually been living in the area for about a year. But after spending most of that time working mostly out of coffee shops—where he would meet with researchers to discuss the potential commercial opportunities of their work—he moved into space on Berkeley Street in the Back Bay last month, setting up shop inside the offices of Oxford Bioscience Partners. This is Arch’s fifth office, joining those in Seattle, Chicago, Austin, and San Francisco. As of this writing the office is not yet listed on the Arch website. But it’s real and open for business, Rives told me last week over a few beers.

I’ve known something was up with Rives and Arch for a quite a while now. Even though Rives is only 28, he was the founding president of Fate Therapeutics, a San Diego-based company built in large part on science from Harvard Medical School that I profiled in April of 2008. We invited Rives to speak about Fate at an Xconomy life sciences forum with co-investor Amir Nashat of Polaris Venture Partners last September, and I’ve seen him around town ever since. I’ve been pressing Rives for months to tell me what’s he up to—and finally, he says, the time was right.

Arch has wide interests, investing across life sciences, information technology, energy, and other areas—often starting at very early stages of research. “Arch has been since its outset about working closely with basic researchers. That’s one of the things that makes us unique,” Rives says. “My role is to really work to develop close relationships with leading researchers in the Boston community. So I spend a tremendous amount of time at various academic research institutions.”

The firm has done a lot of deals over the years in the Boston area. Off the top of his head, Rives lists Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Quanterix, Ensemble Discovery, and, of course, Fate. A more recent investment, he says, was cancer drug developer Agios Pharmaceuticals, where Arch was a co-institutional founder, along with local firms Flagship Ventures and Third Rock Ventures. Bottom line, he says: “Arch has always seen Boston as vital to it.” Now, the firm apparently sees the area as even more vital.

Many, but hardly all (think Amberwave or Ahura Scientific) of the Boston area firms Arch has invested in are in the life sciences, Rives’ own specialty. But, says Rives, “I’m really focusing … Next Page »

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