For the past few weeks, politicos have been focused on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's track record in finance. Did he create jobs? Destroy jobs? Was he even a venture capitalist? The last question has provoked a response from the venture capital community, which has been reluctantly dragged into the spotlight. "Venture Capitalists Say Romney Is Not One Of Us," screamed the headline on a Reuters story about how the National Venture Capital Association has been doing damage control by phoning up reporters to educate them on the definition of venture capital.
Confusion always results when candidates attempt to smear each other, but one venture capital firm in particular has cause for concern. Bain Capital Ventures, the arm of Bain Capital that does invest in venture deals, is at risk of being swept up in the general political melee.
Let's get some disambiguation out of the way. Bain Capital, the firm Romney co-founded, is not considered a venture capital firm. It primarily finances already-established companies in order to improve their profitability and its activities are considered private equity. But Bain does engage in some venture capital, meaning the financing of new or yet-to-be-proven companies, through BCV.
Bain Capital Ventures, the arm of Bain Capital that invests in venture deals, is at risk of being swept up in the general political melee
BCV was formally established in 2000, after Romney says he left Bain Capital. Since then, BCV has raised funds worth about $2 billion with the purpose of investing in media, software, business services, and healthcare. It accounts for a tiny fraction of Bain Capital's $65 billion, but BCV recently raised a $600 million fund and is a significant player in venture capital with more than 30 employees in Palo Alto, New York, and Boston.
BCV's investments over the years include LinkedIn, Color, DoubleClick, and Vonage. That's just in tech, and only the big, bold names consumers would recognizes. BCV primarily looks for behind-the-scenes, enterprise offerings such as HookLogic and dynaTrace. One of BCV's investments, TxVia, was just bought by Google to augment Google Wallet. In May, Amazon bought Bain portfolio company Kiva Systems for $775 million.
Romney left Bain more than ten years ago—exactly when is also in dispute—but he has campaigned on his activities in venture capital by invoking early-stage investments in companies like Staples and Domino's, which later became massive and created jobs. Although this type of investment was uncommon, hundreds of news stories describe Romney as a "venture capitalist." So of course Romney opponents have invoked the term "vulture capitalist," confusing venture capital with a negative view of private equity. Others have untruthfully claimed that Bain doesn't engage in venture capital at all.
BCV no longer wants to remain silent as political mudslinging around the words "Bain" and "venture capital" threatens to smear its name. Like many venture capital firms, BCV has started pushing for more recognition for its efforts. The firm has been reaching out to journalists "just to talk" and promoting efforts like its StartUp Academy internship program. StartUp Academy actually launched back in October. But BCV issued a press release spinning it as new, scoring a slew of media stories everywhere from FOX Business to ReadWriteWeb last week.
It's in BCV's best interest to lean on its own achievements and investments and steer clear of politics. So we weren't surprised when the firm, despite its newfound press-friendliness, declined to comment for this story.