Nov 27, 2017

Borealis Ventures: Venture Capital in Downtown Hanover

By Erica Toews T’18

When Phil Ferneau D’84, T’96 reflected on co-founding Borealis Ventures, he said, “How do you stay in the Upper Valley after Tuck? You get entrepreneurial.”

The Entrepreneurship Club met Managing Director Ferneau and Associate Emily Snyder T’17 at the venture capital firm in downtown Hanover. Borealis launched its first fund in 2002 and raised two additional funds since then. The firm made 40 investments in 15 years and typically invests in the range of $250,000 to $750,000. Two-thirds of investments are in companies based in northern New England. Borealis invests in seed or series A rounds and has gained a reputation as the trusted and local early-stage investor.

Borealis plays a crucial role in helping Dartmouth and other local entrepreneurs build their companies. Ferneau said, “There’s good stuff coming out of the broader Dartmouth network. That’s my fishing hole. It’s fine to find your fishing hole, but make sure it has good fish.”

In the small, non-traditional market of the Upper Valley, Ferneau leads the firm’s healthcare investing, which entails biotechnology, digital health, and medical technology. Sometimes, the firm identifies an unmet need and builds a team, which is common in life sciences. One lesson Ferneau shared is that, you might think you can do something cheap and exit at a low value, but you need a buyer for the lower price. It can be difficult to get big healthcare companies to do smaller deals.

Looking ahead, Ferneau plans to expand geographically and become sector-specific. Borealis is beginning to invest in more companies based in New York and California. Although the first three funds were generalist, the expertise of the Managing Directors gives the firm a competitive advantage in information technology and life sciences. Ferneau believes raising sector-focused funds will increase the quality of inbound deals.

For those of us looking to join a startup, Ferneau’s advice is to look for something that captures our enthusiasm, establish rapport with the founder, and make sure we have value to add as a Tuckie.