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VC Regatta Is Smooth Sailing for Making Relationships

Dan Gebremedhin
Todd Woodworth

They may not be signing any term sheets while out on the water for San Diego’s annual VC Regatta, but venture capitalists who came from out of town this year for the event say it is a way to meet members of San Diego’s startup scene and form in-person connections.

Dan Gebremedhin, a principal at Boston-based firm Flare Capital Partners, was among those who this year attended the afternoon sailing event for the first time.

San Diego’s Terry Moore, who runs the locally based venture capital firm Moore Venture Partners, organized the first VC Regatta five years ago.

This year, the event got a boost from its positioning at the end of San Diego Startup Week.

Gebremedhin, who spoke on a pair of Startup Week panels before setting sail June 23 at the San Diego Yacht Club for the regatta, is originally from Encinitas.

After years in Boston — there Gebremedhin, a physician, became an entrepreneur, then a VC — he said the event was an effective way of developing relationships.

Talented People

“I wouldn’t say any transactions were accomplished or deals done on the water, but generally everybody has a different approach to VC,” he said. “A lot of how I think about VC is about just meeting really smart, talented people and I definitely checked the box there.”

The captain of the boat on which Gebremedin sailed, for example, was San Diego serial entrepreneur Paul Laikind, president and CEO of regenerative medicine company ViaCyte Inc. ViaCyte is developing a cell replacement therapy for people who have been diagnosed with diabetes and require regular injections of insulin.

Although the kind of companies Laikind has started aren’t those Flare would invest in, “he’s a really smart guy, and I’m sure he knows other smart people, too,” Gebremedhin said.

Flare invests in early-stage and emerging health care technology companies. There isn’t a huge amount of that in San Diego as of yet.

“There is a lot of innovation here on the healthtech side, but you generally need to have winners in the space for there to be spinoffs,” Gebremedhin said, such as has happened thanks to the success of Qualcomm Inc. in the wireless industry and Illumina Inc. with DNA sequencing.

Moore started the event after taking some members of the VC Roundtable, a local networking group he founded, out on the bay. A lifelong sailor, he liked being able to combine his passions and share the experience with others in the industry.

Gaining Access

It’s unclear if any deals have been struck as a result of the annual event, but venture capital can be as much about access as it is about money. Moore said he aims to facilitate an environment in which investors and entrepreneurs can meet and talk informally.

Todd Woodworth, a Boston-based analyst with venture capital firm BioInnovation Capital, also attended the event for the first time this year. The firm, which invests in early-stage life science companies, has a network of shared laboratory facilities in cities across the U.S., including its BioLabs facility in San Diego.

“Before I joined (BioInnovation), I was sailing professionally in the Caribbean and Atlantic,” Woodworth said. “Susie Harborth, our local partner in San Diego, saw the VC Regatta and asked me if I would like to come out to San Diego to go for a sail. Of course I said yes.”

Woodworth said spending time at BioLabs ahead of the regatta demonstrated the breadth of the local sources of entrepreneurism in the industry.

‘More Diverse Story’

“In Cambridge, where I spend most of my time, many, but not all, of the companies were founded out of the local academic institutions,” he said. “Startups in San Diego have a more diverse story of how they started and I think this diversity is an asset to the ecosystem.”

Like Gebremedhin, Woodworth said his goal in attending the regatta was to meet new people in the industry — and that he accomplished that aim. The regatta, which started with seven boats, this year numbered 16. Some were themed, such as the boat to which Gebremedhin and Woodworth were assigned, which was reserved for people with life sciences experience.

In addition to talk about companies and investing, the event this year — last year held in July — buzzed with chatter about BIO, the largest biotechnology conference in the world, which was held at the San Diego Convention Center and ended June 22, as well as San Diego Startup Week, which ended the day of the regatta.

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