Venture capitalist Terry McGuire ’78, a founding partner at Boston-based venture capital firm Polaris Partners, was recently featured in a Boston Globe article, “Five things you should know about Terry McGuire.”
The article highlights McGuire’s philosophy on being a venture capitalist and his trajectory to success, beginning with one of the first sparks of inspiration he experienced regarding entrepreneurship after his time at Hobart and William Smith. He was living in rural Ireland when he saw a profound opportunity to advance a community in decline.
“I had left an American college where everything’s about the future, everything’s possible, and I landed in a culture which was basically accepting its decline. I said, ‘Gee, why don’t they start their own businesses, build great companies that would keep the young people there?’ That’s what gave me the idea to explore new-company creation,” McGuire recalls in the article.
McGuire also shares that he’s surrounded himself with successful entrepreneurs over the years, including MIT professor Robert Langer, Biogen Inc. co-founder Phillip Sharp, and Dartmouth bioengineering professor Tillman Gerngross. He says: “There’s a purity to what they’re doing. Their ultimate reward in their minds is the true reward of human impact. How many lives can we change and improve and touch?”
In the piece, he also reflects on the price of innovation in light of national conversations about the cost of pharmaceuticals.
The article also mentions the travel excursions of the entire family, including his wife, HWS Trustee Carolyn Carr McGuire ’78, and their children.
Prior to co-founding Polaris Venture Partners with Jonathan Flint ’73, McGuire worked at Golder, Thoma and Cressey as well as Burr, Egan, Deleage & Co. McGuire has more than 25 years of experience in early stage investing in medical and information technology companies. He has invested in more than 48 companies and has co-founded three: Inspire Pharmaceuticals (public and sold to Merck), AIR (sold to Alkermes) and MicroCHIPS (private).
The companies McGuire has supported have touched more than 60 million patients and directly saved over 400,000 lives. The companies have raised more than $6 billion in equity and corporate capital. As a group, they have achieved a combined peak enterprise value of over $40 billion.
He is currently chair emeritus of the National Venture Capital Association and chair of the Global Venture Capital Congress. In 2015, he was named one of Scientific American’s Worldview 100 visionaries who continue to reshape biotechnology and the world. In 2014, he received the Irish America Healthcare & Life Sciences 50 Award. He was listed as one of Forbes‘ Top Life Sciences Investors in 2013, and he received The Boston Irish Business Award. He was listed in Forbes‘ Midas 100 List of Top Tech Investors in 2011.
McGuire earned his B.S. in physics and economics from Hobart and was a member of Sigma Chi. He received his master’s in engineering from Dartmouth College as well as an MBA from Harvard, where he was elected president of Harvard Business School’s Venture Capital Club.
Since graduating, the McGuires have been involved with the Colleges in numerous ways, providing for the renovation of 775 South Main St., the former Sigma Chi fraternity building, into a student residence, the Carr McGuire House. Terry McGuire regularly returns to campus to offer career advice to students.
The Boston Globe
Five things you should know about Terry McGuire
Robert Weisman • Nov. 20, 2015
One of the best-known venture capitalists in the Boston area and beyond, Polaris Partners founding partner Terry McGuire has invested in four dozen businesses, including Akamai Technologies and Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc., over the past three decades. McGuire, 59, is chairman emeritus of the National Venture Capital Association and chairman of the Global Venture Capital Congress. He spoke last week at Polaris’s new offices on the South Boston waterfront.
1. McGuire, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., was exposed to business by watching his mother and aunt start a dance school. But he was inspired to pursue a career promoting entrepreneurship when he lived in the village of Ranafast, in rural northwest Ireland, after college. McGuire, who was studying the Gaelic language, was struck by the dearth of opportunity in the region.
“I landed in the middle of a community that was basically in decline,” he recalled. “And there weren’t too many kids my age who were still there. I had left an American college where everything’s about the future, everything’s possible, and I landed in a culture which was basically accepting its decline. I said, ‘Gee, why don’t they start their own businesses, build great companies that would keep the young people there?’ That’s what gave me the idea to explore new-company creation.”
2. For McGuire, who describes himself as a natural optimist, it’s always a good time to start a company. He has been through several economic cycles since he cofounded Polaris in 1996. While he concedes the investment climate might be weakening in life sciences, his primary focus, he also believes that venture capitalists shouldn’t try to time the market.
“We’re clearly in a softening, there’s no doubt about that. Whether we’re in a full decline, we’ll wait and see. There’s challenges when markets decline. There’s also opportunities when markets decline. I think teams get incredibly focused on the resources and what they need to do.”
3. McGuire said he’s learned the most over the years by watching and working with successful entrepreneurs such as MIT institute professor Robert Langer, Biogen Inc. cofounder Phillip Sharp, and Dartmouth bioengineering professor Tillman Gerngross. Among the lessons: how to advance technology into discovery and meaningful treatments.
“There’s a purity to what they’re doing. Their ultimate reward in their minds is the true reward of human impact. How many lives can we change and improve and touch? The economic consequence of that is important but secondary. The first goal is how do I allow a kid to live longer. If you don’t keep that higher goal in mind, then it’s all kind of silly.”
4. Despite the rising backlash against high prescription drug prices, McGuire makes no apologies for companies that charge high prices for medicines that save or extend lives.
“Every innovation requires investment. We have to, within the capitalist system, allow for the recovery of that investment and a return to those investors, which manifests itself into initially being higher pricing. My fear is the day that we put so much pressure on pricing that innovation stops. You can’t have a cheap medicine until you have a medicine, and often the first generation of those medicines are expensive. Our kids will live in a better day because there’s a high price today that will become a low price in the future.”
5. McGuire, who has been married to his college sweetheart Carolyn for 32 years, likes to travel with his wife and their three children. He and his wife visit their son Bart and daughter-in-law, Valerie, who live in New Zealand. McGuire and his daughter Ellie have traveled with Gerngross and his daughter in central Europe and Ukraine. He canoes with his son Seamas in northern Maine. And the whole family has traveled together to Ireland and Peru.
“Time with family is the treasure in life for me. Any chance I can travel with the kids I love to do.”