Peter Barrett: The perfect blend of science and entrepreneurship
“The hardest part about getting into science is figuring out what to do,” says Peter Barrett, senior partner in the Life Sciences Division of multi-billion-dollar venture capital firm Atlas Venture. He’s speaking from experience. As an analytical chemistry doctoral student at Northeastern, Barrett wavered between bench research and the business side of science. But through a research co-op job at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, he made his decision. “At Children’s, I figured out that I loved science, but I wasn’t one who wanted to be in a lab,” he explains. “The only way to figure that out is to get out into the world…and put the world into perspective.”
So, he launched into the business side of science, which led him in the mid-1980s to biotechnology. A decade later, he helped co-found Celera, the first company to sequence the human genome—a career highlight for Barrett. “We turned the world upside down,” he says. “The government got serious about the project, and we really accelerated its effort. A project that was supposed to take 10 years, we did in two.”
An entrepreneurial spirit seems to drive Barrett’s career. It played a key factor in the experiential-learning part of his education at Northeastern, and now it plays a key role in his venture capital work. It’s also what lured him to the advisory board of Northeastern’s Barnett Institute of Chemical and Biological Analysis, a center for cutting-edge research and advanced training in analytical chemistry for biomedical applications. Barrett loves the way the institute marries science and industry. “It’s a great example of an entrepreneurial organization working on real-world problems.”
Partner, Life Sciences SectorAtlas Venture, Waltham, Massachusetts
Company Description: Leading international, early-stage venture capital firm, investing in communications, information technology, and life sciences companies.
Employees: 42 in Boston, London, Munich, and Paris office