Darren Herman founded the corporate venturing unit of Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners, KBS+ Ventures, just less than two years ago.
KBS+ Ventures has an unusual model in corporate venturing in advertising, as it invests at the agency level rather than at the holding company level.
As president and chief digital media officer of its parent group, Herman said: “It is rare for an advertising agency to be doing this. It is usually the holding company that is investing, as advertising agencies usually invest at the holding company level purely for gain.
"We wanted to do it at the agency level, as we have our ear to the ground and work with the vendors, partners, and clients on the day to day and know what they want.
“KBS+ has 500 employees and they are all entrepreneurial in some way. When we set up KBS+Ventures in December 2010, I was always pitched on an entrepreneurial idea in the halls of the agency by somebody’s sister’s boyfriend. This made me super-excited as there was no lack of
entrepreneurial passion in and around the agency.”
He added: “We have set up an internal programme, the KBS+ Ventures fellows programme, which is in its third class – each class runs six months. It is application-only, all the way from presidents of the group down to junior staffers.
"It has graduated 48 KBS+ Ventures fellows and looks to leverage employees of KBS+. Our acceptance rate of 1.7% is more stringent and harder to get into than Harvard.”
Herman has been a regular entrepreneur. He has raised more than $50m in venture capital for his own ventures since 1998 and has advised or participated in ventures that have collectively raised more than $100m. He also mentors start-up organisations, including TechStars NY, First Growth Venture Network, and the Founder Institute.
Lessons from the top: Herman said: “We use investments to do two things, achieve a financial return and also get knowledge returns. This is really important: how do we make ourselves smarter? How do we telescope to the future? What is going to happen in the advertising landscape in future?”