ELIAN D. ALVAREZ

- VENTURE CAPITAL - ANGEL INVESTMENT -
- ENTREPRENEURSHIP - LATAM - INNOVATION -
- INVESTMENTS - PRIVATE EQUITY - FINANCE -

Hong Kong Government and Venture Capital

Jan
26

In the past few years, a growing trend of government involvement to boost entrepreneurship and innovation has been observed around the world. For example, key developments in the IT sector have risen from government funded R&D (Research and Development).

The Hong Kong government has also contributed a lot in this regard, especially via Venture Capital (VC) investments.

The ex-financial secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Antony Leung, said in a speech in 2002 that their strategic position provides outstanding opportunities, and VCs in the country have ideally been placed to take these opportunities.

 

Development of VC in Hong Kong

Venture Capital investments started in the 90s with the change in attitude of the Hong Kong’s government, as various reforms were made to the policies of the country toward IT development and innovation. Today, Hong Kong is considered one of the largest VC centers in Asia.

The government of Hong Kong has always been aware of the opportunities created by VCs. This is why a number of initiatives were taken by the government to further enhance the growth and development in the sector. Some of them have been mentioned below.

 

  • VC Financing System

The financing system was formed by the government of Hong Kong to offer supplementary loans with a low rate of interest to VCs that are non-governmental and to provide guarantees for these loans.

  • Direct Investment by the Government – Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC)

The government formed ITC in 2000 in order to make Hong Kong the knowledgeable and world-class economy. Another reason was to harmonize the creation and implementation of policies related to IT and innovation and to make sure there is synergy among them. ITC formulated different programs over the years, including the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), the Applied Research Fund (ARF), and Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance Program (SERAP). Moreover, it also contributed toward the development of IT infrastructure and human capital by introducing programs like the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTPC), the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC), New Technology Training Scheme, Internship Program and more.

  • Provision of Legal Support

The government extended their efforts for the development of VC in the country by envisioning legislations as guarantees for the VC sector. Hong Kong has its own VC laws and does its best to stay compatible with Chinese laws related to VC. Some of the measures taken include Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Promotional Law, wherein, the government of China issued a number of opinions to guide and support the economic development of private and entrepreneurial businesses by introducing preferential measures for SME development; and Provisional Measures for the VC Enterprises Administration to make way for fund raising opportunities and to set forth several investors by offering a legal ground for VC firms to raise capital in a private manner.

  • Adoption of Preferential Taxation Treatment

The VC firms in the Hong Kong were weak in raising capital due to their high risk nature coupled with low success rate. This is why the government formed a preferential taxation treatment by providing exemptions and reductions to back the VC development. A number of steps were taken in this regard, including Profits Tax Exemption for Offshore Funds that helped in bringing new offshore capital to the country, and Avoidance of Double Taxation between China and Hong Kong that decreased rate of tax on passive income, such as, royalties, interest payment, capital gains, and dividends for strengthening Hong Kong as the gateway of foreign investment into Mainland China.

Although, the government of Hong Kong took a large number of initiatives in the region, yet, they were criticized by some specialists who believed that the government could do more to support and improve VC industry. They are of the opinion that the government has kept its focus on later stage startups and businesses while ignoring the startups that are in their early stages, which caused lack of governance. Also, a very small proportion of that money was being invested in Hong Kong.

 

Current Status of the VC Industry in Hong Kong

In 2016, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Leung Chun-Ying, announced HK$2 billion worth of capital in his policy address in order to boost the inflow of money in IT and innovation. It was the Innovation and Technology Venture Fund that aims to encourage increased funding from private VC in IT startups via a matching process. According to the Vice President of the Hong Kong Business Angel Network and managing director of Radiant Venture Capital, Duncan Chiu, the fund was issued to provide backing to early stage companies that struggle to raise capital for their business.

 

To conclude, Hong Kong is known to have the largest population of VC professionals in the region that manage more than 30 percent of the capital, and the government has been making a continuous effort to further strengthen the VC industry for the betterment of the overall Hong Kong economy.

New Unicorn Wannabe

Jan
19

A number of Venture Capital (VC) investors are predicting 2017 to be the year when a large amount of money will flow into startups, especially if those startups have the opportunity to become “Unicorns”. Although, 2016 was not the best year for the startups as 70 percent reduction was observed in the companies that made it to unicorn status, 2017 seems quite promising.

For example, a number of VC firms, including Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz, managed to raise around $40.6 billion – a huge sum of capital needing to be deployed.

 

Rising Trend of Unicorn Companies

A rising number of unicorns from different industries have made it big.

  • Uber – Transportation service
  • Xiaomi – Consumer electronic
  • Airbnb -Lodging services
  • Snapchat – Social media
  • SpaceX – Aerospace

The marketplace for used goods has also picked up the pace during the last ten years as a number of startups have emerged in the market, such as OfferUp, 5miles and OLX.

 

Boom of the Unicorns in the Used Goods Marketplace

The online market for used goods has dramatically increased over the past decade as more and more e-commerce companies have made their entry. Encouraging the users to get rid of the items they no longer need, these companies have created a multibillion dollar market.

Recently, Letgo, a company that allows users to purchase and sell products secured $175 million in new financing. It has previously grabbed on to $325 million since it was initially launched and is currently approaching one billion dollars in valuation.

Moreover, some of the big unicorn names like Facebook launched a Marketplace Tab on the lower bar of its mobile application that allows quick access to shopping and selling on the basis of location. This goes to show how it is planning to penetrate in the e-commerce industry rather more aggressively.

 

LatAm Unicorns – Making it Big

On the other hand, in Latin America, some of the talented entrepreneurs are hosting five of the world’s biggest Unicorns ($1 billion in valuation). Although, the list of tech startups founded in Latin America is short, yet, these companies have made it possible for other new entrants to envision themselves as growing on a global scale. Argentina is the only country in Latin America with 4 (soon to be 5 with Letgo) out of 6 Unicorns. Those Unicorns are MercadoLibre, Despegar, OLX and Globant.

MercadoLibre is an online company from Argentina that is involved in online auctions and e-commerce. eBay made a strategic alliance with this company back in 2001. Apart from Argentina, the company currently has its presence in Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and a lot of other countries.

B2W is another name in the same sector. It was founded in 2006 and its headquarters are based in Rio de Janerio. B2W is a retail company that came into existence as a result of a merger between Americanas.com (holding a control share of around 53 percent) and Submarino.com (controlling the remaining percentage of share). The market-share of a company in the year it was founded was almost 50 percent of the online sales sector in Brazil.

Similarly, another renowned Argentine unicorn company from the e-commerce sector is OLX, which was founded by Fabrice Grinda and Alec Oxenford in 2006. Its headquarter is based in New York. The company is currently operating in more than 40 countries around the world.

The total number of internet users in Latin America is closer to the users in the U.S., but it has shown rapid growth in the past couple of years with the growth rate that is 8 to 10 times more than the U.S. rate. It means that the potential for new startups to make it big is huge in this region. Besides, there is a strong institutional and government support for entrepreneurial companies, which can further increase the expected number of unicorns in that area.

China Government and Venture Capital

Jan
12

In emerging nations, governments have greater influence over markets than ever due to regulations and political control. The ubiquity of a government can be seen in every economy through indirect or direct ownership of investment vehicles. China is no different.

The Chinese government started relaxing its grip on the economy during 70’s, which resulted in the escalation of investment and private entities. Since 1979, private and foreign investments have contributed a major role in making China one of the fastest growing economy in the world. Despite that, the country struggled to have standard financing mechanisms for businesses, including the availability of debt finance for smaller firms or presence of efficient equity markets. Although, it gave rise to a number of challenges, yet, it created opportunities for Venture Capital (VC) in China.

 

Rise of VC firms in China

The VC firms started making their way in the Chinese market during the early 80’s, and the impetus for this development was public policies, because the government still plays a dominant role in the country. The National Research Center of Science and Technology for Development suggested in 1984 that China should set up a VC system to encourage high technology market development. A number of local governments in the country supported and sponsored VC funds so that they could be invested in State Owned Enterprises (SOE) so as to level them up at a global standard in terms of quality and productivity. An example of such organization was China New Technology Venture Investment that was formed in 1985. Some of them were established for years, while others were formed only to make an investment in firms, especially the SOEs.

During 80’s, the primary focus of VC firms was to invest in property and infrastructure as there was an increasing popularity in hotel development and tourism sector. However, many of these investments couldn’t perform well and private equity investors lost interest in such investments. By the end of 1980s, interest in the Chinese market started brewing again. Due to steady economic growth and the government’s interest in such investments, VC was encouraged. But it wasn’t without a conflict as the government wanted to invest in high technology market and private investors wanted to keep their focus on low risk investments.

 

Evolution of VC in the Chinese Market

There was a lot of investment failure in the beginning as tourism and hotel development business couldn’t produce sufficient return. Moreover, a sudden proliferation of VC also turned out to be a failure, because the government officials and entrepreneurs didn’t have that experience.

As a result of such failures, a new body was formed in 2002, called the China Venture Capital Association, to improve the professionalism in this sector. Since then, the VC ecosystem has not only evolved but also shown tremendous growth.

 

Current Status of VC in China

While the investors in the developed nations are cutting their stakes in startups and golden age of unicorns is reaching the end, the venture capital fund backed by the Chinese government has brought together the biggest pool of startups in the world. It has reached 10 times the amount invested by VC in startups in 2015 ($32.2 billion).

 

Beijing Initiative

The country recently announced the formation of a $30 billion state-backed VC fund for encouraging the reform of SOEs and bolstering innovation. The fund is backed by the State Council and China Reform Holdings Corps, and it is established to find out the market-friendly ways to combine state assets and easily channel investments toward specific projects. It can turn out to be an effective move by the government in the long run despite the concerns regarding inefficient distribution and governance of assets. With the help of this initiative, if Beijing successfully upgrades its SOEs through effective investment in promoting high-tech companies, it can be helpful in rebalancing the economy of China by taking its reliance away from investments that focused on consumption based growth.

 

Other Investments Made by the Local Governments

China is struggling with economic difficulties as a result of ever increasing corporate debt, skyrocketing home price and reducing trend in exports. To combat such issues, local governments in China are also entering the VC sector, investing a total of ¥30 trillion. The purpose of this investment is to trigger the development of high-end manufacturing firms, internet and bio-technology so that it replaces the eroded economic growth of stumbling sectors.

Around 780 local government funds are competing to seed the upcoming multibillion dollar startups, including online emporium Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Xiaomi, and SZ DJI Technologies Co. (Drone maker company), as China is striving to create at least one Silicon Valley in more than 20 provinces.

 

If China is able to achieve a desired outcome of such investments, it will not only enable the country to avoid the middle income trap, but also scale the entrepreneurship and innovation at a massive level.

UK Government and Venture Capital

Jan
05

New startup have a potential for high growth, and these businesses have been emerging at a fast pace since the recession of 2008. However, the success of these companies is based on a number of factors, one of which is the availability of an appropriate source of business finance. Due to the credit crunch, new businesses suffered a lot in the UK in terms of getting finance. Therefore, it was important to rehabilitate the economy of the United Kingdom by encouraging alternate sources of investments, such as, Private Equity or Venture Capital funds.

The main challenge faced by the government of the UK was not to create high-growth firms, but to take measures in order to ensure continued growth of these companies. Innovative ideas can only thrive if the right investment opportunity is available. The businesses with a potential of high-growth need a substantial amount of funds up-front, which is hard to obtain via traditional sources of finance.

 

Rise of Business Angels in the UK

Right after the credit crunch, business angel network evolved in the UK and took the form of well-structured and organized groups of professionals. It allowed them to make significant initial investments and undertake subsequent investments in the same professional way as Venture Capital investors do. However, the Venture Capital funding system was not established and focused on investing in innovative ideas, but it began to change.

 

The UK Government Support for Venture Capital Investment

Inspired by the Venture Capital (VC) backed firms in the United States, economists and authorities in the UK showed rising interest in this alternate investment opportunity for its unique role in distributing resources and expertise to a small percentage of high potential businesses.

Every major economy in the world has implemented initiatives to promote the role of VC, and many governments have formed their own VC funds. Similarly, the UK government has established various hybrid VC funds to achieve the entrepreneurial objectives and bridge the equity gap by strengthening the VC ecosystem. The purpose of these funds is to focus on growth oriented startup firms with innovative ideas that continue to face difficulties in obtaining capital. The UK government has a history of such interventions in a financial market that goes back to 1945 the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation (ICFC) was formed for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises).

 

The Government VC Funds (GVCFs)

There are three main GVCFs operating in the UK, namely UK Innovation Investment Fund (UKIIF), Enterprise Capital Funds (ECF), and Angel Co-investment Fund (ACF). All of these are the hybrid co-investment schemes and their aim is to promote public-private sector investment.

  • UK Innovation Investment Fund (UKIIF) – It was established in 2010 to encourage VC investment in the Research and Development sectors. It supports the formation of viable investment capital and targets the high-potential IT businesses in the UK. The investment is made via two underlying funds, i.e., the UK Future Technology Fund (now ceased) and the Hermes Environmental Impact Fund. These funds invest in those VC funds that are involved in giving capital to strategically crucial sectors of the UK, such as, life sciences, digital technologies, advanced manufacturing, or clean technology.
  • Enterprise Capital Funds (ECF) – This fund started operating in 2006. It represents a combination of private and public investments in businesses that have a tendency of high-growth. The purpose of establishing this fund was to lower the entry barrier for fund managers to operate in the VC ecosystem as well as to increase the supply of equity in the region where small businesses do not have access to the growth capital. It is rolling a program of 19 funds around £840 million with a planned life-cycle of ten to twelve years.
  • Angel Co-investment Fund (ACF) – It is the UK government’s £100 million fund that was launched in 2011. The objective of this fund is to provide direct investment to SMEs with high growth potential and to support the UK business angel market. Under this scheme, funds are allocated across the UK with a goal to support companies at every stage of development in different sectors. Furthermore, it operates at an arm’s length from the UK government under the administration of the British Business Bank.

 

Government interventions have become more important with the rapidly changing business environment and more initiatives are required to be taken by the government to promote the innovative ideas in the country to boost the overall economic environment.

Angels going back to heaven

Dec
22

The global market is at its all times high and businesses are getting investments in abundance.

Angel investments have also stepped up their game. In the past few years, a number of deals took place where the investments from angel investors flooded in, for example, Reid Hoffman, who made an investment in Facebook and Flickr, whereas, Chris Sacca invested in Instagram and Twitter. You would find so many names behind the companies who made it big in a short period of time, such as Friendster, Yelp, Twitter, etc.

 

Business Cycles leading the Angel Cycle

Most of the startups in the tech-industry have been backed by contributions made by angel investors, but the question is:

How long will it last?

This question has been brewing for quite some time, and there is a reason behind it.

If you take a look at past three decades, you will find out that angel cycle followed the same pattern as a business cycle. With the boom and bust experienced by the business cycle, angels took exits and departed to safe haven from time to time. There has been a total of five distinct cycles over a period of the last thirty-one years, depicting the rise and fall of silicon valley’s angel investors.

The sine curve that keeps track of fluctuations in the angel cycle typically follows the sine curve that keeps track of ups and down in a wider business cycle. It shows that as angel investing begins to rise up, the remaining startup investment market would be going through a radical shift.

 

Rise of Angels in Past 5 Years

For the past six years, the size of an average investment made by angels grew almost sixty percent, and pre-money valuation has shown a growth of around twenty percent.

Angels have invested heavily in the valley, wherein, different groups of angels have infused a lot of cash as the rounds got bigger and bigger each time. For example, two years ago in 2014, an investment of more than $24 billion was made by angel investors.

As they were risky investments, they hardly took into account more than 10 percent of an angel’s portfolio. Most of these investment decisions were discretionary; this is the reason why appetite of these investors and available funds got exhausted due to uncertain market conditions.

 

If the Cycle is about to Mature?

As predicted by Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist in the Silicon Valley, the cycle is about to reach its maturity growth is given more value as compared to making profits. Regardless of whether it is happening, when it eventually happens, angel investors will become more cautious, wherein, some of them would wait for the market to go back to where it was prior to the fall, while others would simply pack up and leave.

 

History Repeats Itself

If you look back in the past, angel investors flee from the recession that occurred in the beginning of 1980s, only to enter the market again with the introduction of PCs and record high job opportunities coupled with the surge in the real estate market in San Francisco. Another downfall of angel cycle was observed with the economic recession of the 90s, as they made an even dramatic comeback later on with the growth of the dot – com bubble. Right after the bubble was burst in 2000, not only did they leave the tables once again, the investments turned out to be a failure as well.

They made another comeback after that, but escaped to safe havens when the real recession hit the market in 2007. Since then, the industry has experienced bullish trends, but no one knows when it will come to an end. However, the only certainty on the basis of past events is that it will come to an end.

 

If Time for Startups is Now?

If you have a startup company or planning to raise capital for funding your idea, it is better to raise capital now. Try to attract as much funds today as you can, while the market is experiencing a boom, because when the business cycle takes a shift, angels will take a step back. In times of good market conditions, business cycles are considered perpetual. What businesses tend to forget is, it is a cycle that goes through a series of surges and plunges. The global economy is not immune to the unavoidable macro events, as their occurrence gradually causes the shift in business cycles.

Crowdfunding and Venture Capital

Nov
11

If startups manage to get funding from a venture capital firm (VC) or angel investors, they mark it as a successful milestone.

However, in the past few years, another investment vehicle has been introduced in the financial market to fund innovative ideas called CrowdFunding (CF). It has been changing the game ever since its inception and it is a new form of raising money to finance ideas. Unlike other forms of investments, such as, seed funding, angel investing, VCs or bank loans, CrowdFunding actually enables startups and entrepreneurs to invest in their business with a large amount of capital supply. Before going into detail, let’s look at what crowdfunding actually is.

 

What is CrowdFunding?

In simple words, CrowdFunding is a mean of raising money through a large amount of individuals, who are requested to fund an idea on a CrowdFunding website with a small amount of money. This phenomenon depicts the wisdom of the crowd, wherein, a business gets an opportunity to satisfy the market demand that was previously not exploited. Having this system in place results in creator getting funds to excel in his creativity and crowd getting a new product, which makes it a win-win situation.

 

CrowdFunding or Venture Capital – A Better Choice?

This can be a topic of solid debate if discussed in detail, because both sources have their upside and downside. In order to get a clear idea of which one of the two is a better choice, some of the key points have been discussed below.

 

  • Ease of Access

There is no doubt that it is easier to access funds via CrowdFunding than it is to raise capital via Venture Capital. You can meet your capital requirement with CF without having to build any connections, and instead, leave the decision to a large group of individuals. Sometimes, VC is hard to access. Despite having actual customers and real revenues, companies are considered small by the venture capitalists.

With CrowdFunding platform, it becomes easier to access a wide array of accredited individuals to fulfill initial capital requirements. On the other hand, regardless of how streamlined the venture capital processes are, there will always be more friction in terms of VC making inquiries and spending more time.

  • Stability

Stability is a key to a successful business, but it isn’t achieved easily. Most of the startups do not show an incredible growth curve in the beginning. It takes time to find the product/market fit and to find out a scalable way to sell a product. It means startups would need extra time for which, there will be extra financing requirements. In case of CrowdFunding, there is no apparent deal with responsibility and resources to fill this gap. This is where venture capital partners can assist a business to maintain their focus on execution by providing enough cash.

However, it should be done based on TRUST where both the founders of a startup and venture capitalists feel that the investment was done fairly.

 

Venture Capitalists working with CrowdFunding platforms

Ron Miller, a CEO of StartEngine (CrowdFunding platform), venture capitalists are compelled to use CF, because it asks founders for revealing the strength of their teams and values in the marketplace. He further said that it shows that strong teams and concepts are likely to get exposure in the market, which will draw attention of the VCs and other investors to further invest in their ideas.

For Example, Oculus Rift, a virtual reality system. They raise $2.4 million through CrowdFunding, which gave them the opportunity to rise another round led by Andreeseen Horowitz (VC firm) to raise $75 million.

 

Both sources of funds have their pros and cons. However, some VCs are now turning to crowdfunding websites to get access to new deals. Having strict timelines, they use CrowdFunding to identify if the idea is worth investing time in.