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With Procyon Ventures, MIT Sloan grad funds enterprise SaaS companies with global potential

Millie Liu, MFin ’12, says venture fund will open doors to Asian markets for big data, machine learning, and IT infrastructure companies

September 3, 2014

Millie Liu, MFin ’12

Millie Liu, MFin ’12

A recent MIT Sloan Master of Finance graduate is helming one of the newest venture capital firms in the Boston area, investing in big data and IT infrastructure companies with the potential to expand into global markets.

Millie Liu, MFin ’12, said Procyon Ventures is interested in Software-as-a-Service companies working on analytics, big data, and machine learning, as well as the IT infrastructure to back it up, such as databases, data processing, security applications, and networking. Some startups Procyon invests in, such as Seven Bridge Genomics—which builds an IT backend platform with analysis applications for genome sequencing—work in several of these areas.

Procyon, based in Cambridge, was founded in February and made its first investment in April. Today, it has invested in three companies, with a fourth on the way. The firm offers seed, Series A, and Series B funding. First checks range from $50,000 to $500,000 with follow-on investment for future rounds.

Procyon has a broad investment theme with a focus on startups with potential to grow globally, particularly in China, a market Liu knows well. The firm, she said, helps companies make connections and find the customers they need in markets that may be unfamiliar to them. Liu recalled her time working at a venture-backed enterprise SaaS startup that struggled to secure customers when it first arrived in China. She felt the firm’s investors should have worked harder to help develop connections and customers for the company.

“I realized there are a lot of problems with U.S. companies getting into the global market, especially with a different culture,” she said. “It’s not because we don’t have the technology. It’s just because of that one missing link of someone being that bridge. That served as inspiration later on for the fund.”

For companies like Cambridge-based Seven Bridges Genomics, she said, China is the largest market in the world. Customers could include Chinese mega-sequencers, which serve most of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies.

The first company Procyon invested in, Infinite Analytics, is a predictive analytics company based in Cambridge. Co-founder and CEO Akash Bhatia, MBA ’12, said the access to the Chinese market Procyon provides is extremely valuable to his company. He also praised Liu’s guidance and work ethic.

“Procyon is extremely committed to us,” he said. “Millie and its venture partner Drew Volpe have been involved in interviewing key hires, providing a global perspective in our decision making and Series A fundraising strategy. Its the informality of working with her as well as her availability at any given time. Whether it’s in the middle of the day or evening, Millie is available to bounce off ideas, solutions, or even strategic decisions.”

Procyon is not location-biased. One company in its portfolio—Contastic, which develops customer relationship management software—was founded in Cambridge before moving to Silicon Valley. But Liu said Procyon set up shop in Cambridge because the Boston area is rife with the “deep tech” talent and expertise that drives the companies it is investing in.

“I basically came to the U.S. for MIT,” said the China native. “This is like the first home for me, so personally it makes a lot of sense. It’s also great that with Harvard, MIT, and other schools in the area, it’s just a huge factory feeding all these talents.”

When Liu first arrived at MIT Sloan in 2011 from the private equity industry, she was considering a career in trading. But her interest in startups grew through working with startups, working with venture capitalists, and organizing the MIT-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum. She founded a company that uses social media data to track and minimize news latency for financial market events. Faculty members such as Professor Edward Roberts, founder of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and former MIT Sloan entrepreneurship professor Howard Anderson also provide mentorship as Liu developed Procyon Ventures.

“In a way, I totally got brainwashed by MIT,” she said. “But in a good way.”