In some ways, James Newell is a hometown Seattle boy.
He was born and raised on the Kitsap Peninsula, just an hour’s ferry ride from downtown Seattle, and attended the University of Washington on a football scholarship.
So when he took a job in San Francisco advising companies on merger and acquisitions, it was supposed to be a temporary move.
“It was only supposed to be two years, I was going to do my quick tour of duty and then return to Seattle. Then two years turned into four, and four turned into ten, and ten turned into almost twelve. And I finally made my return a couple of weeks ago,” said Newell, who spent eight years investing in startups at Menlo Park, Calif.-based IVP.
Now, Newell has returned to the Pacific Northwest to continue startup investing at Voyager Capital, a venture capital firm with offices in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Portland.
Bill McAleer, a founding partner of Voyager, said the addition of an experienced Silicon Valley investor to its Seattle office was part of a purposeful move to place more emphasis on the Pacific Northwest.
“We’re very bullish on the Seattle market,” said McAleer. “Bringing James on is part of reinforcing our commitment to this market and also shifting most of our investing effort and focus to the Pacific Northwest.”
Four of the last five deals the firm has made have been with Pacific Northwest companies, and McAleer said he’s excited about the potential startup scene in the region. The former Aldus executive said he sees potential for a crop of new startups fueled by tech workers moving to the city to work at engineering centers set up by Silicon Valley tech giants like Facebook and Google.
And along with those new startups, Seattle will need a stronger relationship with Silicon Valley.
“In bringing James on we wanted someone who had been deep in Silicon Valley and the relationships he was able to form at one of the top tier firms in the Valley, but also could bring the perspective of what it’s like to do business in the Northwest,” McAlee said.
He also pointed out that Newell has strong experience in both of Voyager’s areas of expertise, early-stage funding and B2B companies. So what does Newell think of Seattle’s startup scene in relation to Silicon Valley?
“I think that, other than just the size of the overall ecosystem, they’re probably more similar than different,” Newell said. “It’s obvious that [Seattle’s is] smaller, it’s more intimate, it’s a little bit more rational, but there’s no shortage of the talented people working on really challenging problems.”
Specifically, he said cloud tech is an area that he and Voyager are excited about watching develop in the Seattle area.
“Both AWS and Azure have really made Seattle the center of the universe when it comes to the public cloud, and both of those companies are an absolute magnet for talented people. Any time you have that many smart people working on really hard technical challenges, you end up with a great entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said.
Voyager’s past investments have included Act-On, Bluebox Group and Answer Dash.