When Polaris Venture Partners arrived in Seattle 15 years ago, the Boston-based firm thought the market had plenty of promise. But general partner Jon Flint tells VentureWire that the Seattle market “never developed,” and as a result the firm has closed its Seattle office. General Partner Brian Chee has relocated to the firm’s San Francisco office, a place that Flint says is “a much more fertile place for us to fish.”
That’s hardly the message that Seattle’s venture capital and entrepreneurial community wants to hear. But it does play into a larger theme I’ve discussed in recent weeks.
Seattle — for all its strengths with anchor tenants like Amazon.com, Microsoft, Expedia and The University of Washington — has failed to produce a blockbuster next-generation technology company on the scale of LinkedIn, Facebook or Salesforce.com. (The sale of Seattle-based Isilon to EMC for $2.25 billion, considered one of the largest purchases of a storage company, was a good start but not enough to put the region on the map).
Polaris has been relatively quiet on the venture capital scene for a number of years in terms of new investments, so the closure of the office is not a huge surprise.
However, the firm has had some success in the market with existing portfolio companies. Impinj, the Seattle developer of RFID technologies, just filed to go public last month. And smoking cessation startup Free & Clear sold to Inverness Medical Solutions for $130 million in 2009, an acquisition that was honored by Washington state’s Evergreen Venture Capital Association as the top deal of the year.
Polaris, along with Arch Venture Partners, was one of the first venture capital firms to set up shop in Seattle. The local office was led for more than a decade by Polaris co-founder Steve Arnold, a former Microsoft and Corbis executive who switched to a part-time role at the firm a few years ago. (We have emails into both Arnold and Chee, and we’ll update the post when we hear more).
The departure of Polaris follows several other VC firms from outside the region that decided to pull the plug in Seattle, including Mohr Davidow Ventures and Atlas Venture. Those firms pulled out after of Seattle in 2003 following the dot-com bust.
Other companies in the Polaris portfolio in Seattle include Noetix, Cardiac Dimensions and Botanical Laboratories.
[Hat tip to Xconomy]