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X-STEM – Extreme STEM Symposium

Mr. Kevin J.Kinsella

Nominated by:
2014 Nifty Fifty Kevin Kinsella Avalon-Ventures-logo
Powerhouse on the Venture Capital Scene: Kevin J. Kinsella


He's sometimes called "the venture capitalist with the Midas Touch" -- for good reason.


Kevin Kinsella, founder of La Jolla, California-based Avalon Ventures, has become highly successful doing what he loves: investing hundreds of millions of dollars in promising young businesses.


"In venture capital, everything is a calculated risk," says Kevin, whose Avalon Ventures mainly invests in fledgling technology and life sciences enterprises. The list of start-up businesses that he has either created from scratch, or has been an early investor in, totals more than 100, and includes such biotech successes as Neurocrine Biosciences, Athena Neurosciences, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Onyx Pharmaceuticals and Sequana Therapeutics. Tech successes include Vocera, Synaptics, Landmark, Pictella, CloudKick and Simulmedia.


Perhaps Avalon's best-known start up is Zynga, the San Francisco-based maker of FarmVille, the online game that kept millions obsessively logged onto Facebook. (Avalon Ventures originally invested $5.3 million in Zynga, and saw the value of its stake skyrocket to $340 million in December 2011after Zynga's initial public offering on the stock market.)


A man of eclectic tastes and interests, Kevin, the son of Broadway and television actor Walter Kinsella and Super Model Jane Davis, was steeped in the theatre as a youth. He is known for using that passion and his business acumen in producing the Tony Award-winning mega Broadway hit musical, Jersey Boys (and for co-producing the Grammy Award-winning Original Cast Recording of Jersey Boys), as well as for receiving the 2012 Tony Nomination for Best Revival of a Musical for Jesus Christ Superstar.


Before founding Avalon Ventures, Kevin took a somewhat circuitous route to venture capital. This included working for Solar Turbines International (Caterpillar Tractor) where he directed all international joint ventures, as well as barter and counter-trade. Before that, he was an advisor to the Peruvian government in National Nutrition Planning, as well as operating a technology exchange program between the U.S. and Latin America based in Mexico City, and teaching algebra at the American High School in Beirut, Lebanon.


With $250 in his pocket and driving his Ford Pinto, he arrived in San Diego in 1978 with big dreams and ideas to be a venture capitalist. He soon started his first computer company with a group of MIT graduates. Avalon Ventures, which he established in 1983, began modestly, funded with $400,000 for its first round of investments. Those investors taking part in that round got 10 times their money back. As Avalon continued to pump out returns, the rounds grew steadily. In August 2012, Avalon raised its 10th Fund of $202 million.


Kevin is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a Bachelor of Science degree in management, with minors in electrical engineering and political science. He holds a Master of Arts degree in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and conducted post-graduate work in political economy on a Rotary International Fellowship at the University of Stockholm, Sweden. He is a member of the Circumnavigators Club, an elite group of explorers who have gone around the world in a continuous trip using multiple modes of transport. Kevin is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


Always looking ahead, Kevin attributes his success, as well as that of his venture fund, to the continual search for original ideas. "Avalon has not historically been in the me-too business. When you think about really successful companies, they are not repeating something other successful companies have done. You can't invest in the rear-view mirror."


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