Cafes and Computers: Venture Capital, Harvard-Style

As Harvard has expanded its venture capital efforts in recent years, it has established a handful of companies to hold its investments, as well as a reputation for Hellenism.

Aeneas Venture Corp. Aeneas Holdings Inc., Demeter Holdings Corp., One Eye Corp. and Phemus Corp. are all subsidaries of President and Fellows of Harvard College--the legal entity that operates the entire university. Finanical whizkids Scott M. Sperling and Michael R. Eisenson rake in $1 million a year juggling the risky ventures.

The investments netted the University a 15.5 percent return during the last fiscal year.

The following are some of Harvard's more interesting buys:

Spinnaker Software Corporation, Cambridge, Mass: In March 1990, the Harvard-owned Phemus Corporation extended this local computer software company a $3 million line of credit. Harvard is also a principal stockholder in the firm, which recently eliminated staff in a restructuring effort.

Saks Fifth Avenue

The Pavillion at Saks, Houston, Texas: In 1986, Aeneas Holdings acquired a 50 percent stake in this mall for $7.1 million. Harvard now estimates the value of the investment as $13.4 million.

Safer Inc., Newton, Mass.: Aeneas Venture owns part of this manufacturer of environmentally safe pesticides. But even this undeniably politically correct investment is not without risk--in July, 1989, the company was fined more than $50,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency for misleading advertising.

Saber Technology Corp., San Jose, Calif.: Harvard sunk venture capital funds into this company in the mid-1980s. The company collapsed after consuming $10 million in investor money. Its founder was later sentenced to six years in federal prison for conspiring to sell supercomputers to the Soviets.

NEW ENGLAND LIVING

New England Living Magazine, Manchester, N.H.: Aeneas Venture is financing the fledgling periodical, which is geared toward affluent New England residents sick of reading about Boston's perspective on the region. The publishers are optimistic, but the declining strength of the local economy may hamper the venture's success.

John Burnham Building, San Diego, Calif.: An Aeneas Holdings joint venture in this court and office building has climbed in value from $890,000 to $4.4 million over a year and a half.

Sport Club Inc., Los Angeles, Calif.: Aeneas Venture put up between $1 and $2 million in 1987 to support this warehouse-style sporting goods retailer. It recently went out of business.

au bon pain THE FRENCH BAKERY CAFE

Au Bon Pain, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard is one of several hundred shareholders in the famous cafe chain.