ELIAN D. ALVAREZ

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

Venture Capital Ecosystem – Now

Aug
17

The current Venture Capital ecosystem has begun to revive and experienced growth in the last two-quarters. Let’s take a look at the situation of the venture capital ecosystem to evaluate the liquidity and investment position in the market.

 

Overview

In the first and second quarter of 2017, VC sector continued to grow despite the rolling financial market in China, Euro crisis, UK’s exit from the EU, controversial election in the U.S. and obstructed technology IPO market. Although, new uncertainties have surfaced, investors have learned to adapt and adjust. Whereas, the profits made in the first quarter further increased in the second quarter.

 

Funding Activity at a Global Level

The number of deals around the world has also increased. Equity funding rounds in the second quarter of this year increased by 5.7% as compared to the first quarter, adding about 300 rounds. This change took place as a result of angel investment and seed stage investment.

If you compare it with the second quarter of 2016, the overall growth in the funding rounds was about 8.8%, which came about as a result of early stage firms.

 

Dollar Volume

According to a report by CrunchBase, the overall investment increased by 16% in dollar terms, which is an increase of about $6.6 billion in the deployed capital. There was a fair distribution of gain. Late stage startups, early stage startups, startups at the seed stage and angels received about 20% funding in the current quarter as compared to the previous one. The only thing that faced a downturn was a technology growth rounds.

However, the global VC market is not yet restored. In the second quarter of last year, the total investment amount was $51.5 billion, but this year it was $47,8 billion, i.e., 7.2% less than the previous year. On the other hand, technology and seed sector experienced growth by 10.75% and 16.5% respectively.

 

Leading Investors

In a CrunchBase report, a total of 3200 VC rounds was analyzed during the second quarter of this year. During the first quarter, it was Tencent Holdings, Sequoia Capital and Accel Partners that secured the first position, wherein, each had a total of 9 rounds. In the current quarter, however, Tencent led 11 rounds, whereas, Sequoia and Accel led 14 and 20 rounds respectively.

In this quarter, some newcomers were also in the leading position, including Samsara, Grammarly, and General Catalyst. SoftBank also formed part of this list in the second quarter of 2017 along with True Ventures. Some firms dropped down from a leading position, while other newcomers made it to the top.

 

Technology Growth

Growth capital in the technology sector is also known as a growth equity in the business. Technology growth rounds have been defined as private equity rounds in the CrunchBase report. In these rounds, some VC investors from the previous rounds also participated as a continuation.

The dollar and deal volume also increased in this quarter compared with a volume of the same period last year. The overall increase was about 32%. The increase in dollar volume was of $160 million. Although, the deals in the current quarter were two times more than the deals in the previous quarter, the total value of funds was 45% less than the last quarter. This downfall represents the decline in round sizes over time.

 

Initial Public Offerings

The second quarter of 2017 experienced a small increase in the technology initial public offerings (IPOs), both in the United States and the Europe. This toned down the speculative noise that IPO window was closed for everyone except the big firms.

No significant regulatory filings or announcements were made in the third quarter of this year. Redfin, a real estate brokerage, filed documents with the Security and Exchange Commission, showing its interest to raise $100 million. And so far, it has managed to raise over $167 million from investors like Tiger Global Management, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and others.

 

Although, the global VC market experienced a severe decline at the end of last year, the second quarter of 2017 was relatively better. Growth was observed in the dollar and deal volume for two-quarters back to back. Rounds are also experiencing growth; some venture capitalists doubled the bet on their investing activities. If the upward trend continues, the third quarter will bring the market back to normal after full recovery.

Why Venture Capitals should back companies with female founders?

Aug
03

Although, venture capital has invested a huge amount of money in the IT sector and contributed to innovative developments, yet, it still faces the same gender equality problems as any other sector does. A study by the Babson College examined the state of women in the venture capital sector. Around 7000 companies that got venture capital (VC) funding were evaluated.

According to the study, the percentage of women partners in VC firms was 10 percent in 1999, but it has reduced to only 6 percent now and venture backed companies that have female founders make 12 percent more revenue than companies with male owners. Despite that, only 2.7 percent of the companies fueled by venture capital had female chief executive officers between 2011 and 2013. Whereas, according to a 2014 research report of the Fortune, only 4.2 percent of the partners are women in the VC sector.

 

Issues Faced by Women in the IT Sector

Women in the IT sector have initiated a number of campaigns that are based on ‘asking for more’, especially when it comes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education, fair policies, mentors, pay raise, and salaries. Moreover, women have also come forward with the hardships that include unfair salary negotiation and maternity leave policies and gender bias.

These issues have led to many campaigns, conferences, and summits. However, despite all these stories of hardship and inequality, no change has come. A clear example of this is a when Ellen Pao lost her case in 2015 for gender discrimination. She claimed to have been left out of networking events because she was a female and was not promoted to be a partner while her male colleagues were promoted ahead of her.

A partner at Canaan Partners, John Balen, said that the male dominating culture begins right from the school and there should be a conscious effort to break that cycle. Candy Brush who carried out the Babson College study is of the opinion that a journey toward becoming a venture capitalist starts from your college and professional network. If 2.7 percent of the firms have females at the executive position and 15 percent of the venture-backed companies have one female on their team, it represents the small possibility of it happening.

 

Macro Factors – The Cause of Decline in Female VC Partners?

As discussed, the percentage of female partners in VC firms have reduced from 10 percent to 6 percent since 1999. Macro factors, including a dot com bubble burst of 2000 and credit crunch of 2008 have also contributed to the decline. VC companies had to go for downsizing during those downturns. The majority of the firms were not so big; they had to lay off on the basis of “last in, first out” – minorities and females in this case.

Another macro factor was the rising popularity of the technology market during the past two decades, especially after Facebook and Google. Having a technological edge was what mattered the most. Although, there has been a shift in this attitude, yet, there are so many investors who still want a technical partner in their team.

The founder of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Charlie O’Donnell, said that there are only a few females who are software engineers, therefore, it automatically leads a firm to hire more male partners.

 

Can Gender Equality Lead to Business Opportunity?

The managing directors and co-founders of the Women’s Venture Capital Fund, Monica Dodi and Edith Dorsen, once had a rendezvous with finance and investment professionals to talk about the more risk-intelligent approach in the VC sector. Their fund is the outcome of that meeting. Dorsen was of the opinion that the purpose of initiating this fund was to explore the untouched opportunity with female founders as a focal point. She further went on to say that firms with gender inclusive teams tend to perform better and are very competitive, but not everyone fully understands it so as to generate return out of it.

In a research carried out by Babson college, it was revealed that companies with females in the executive team are 64 percent more likely to have better valuations after the first funding and 50 percent chance to perform better at the last funding.

The founder of the Female Founders Fund, Anu Duggal, said that she visits the Silicon Valley four times a year to interact with partners of the top venture capital funds. She has observed a shift in attitude with a positive change. If the current trend continues, the VC sector and technology market might experience a major shift and massive success in times to come as it moves in the direction of gender equality.

What do Venture Capitalists Look for in a Startup?

May
26

Billions of dollars are invested in new startups every year. Therefore, it has become even more important to find the answer to the following question: what do venture capitalists want?

A venture capital firm called Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ Venture Capital) that has injected funds in around 2 dozen unicorns, including Twitter, Tumblr, Skype, and Box. One of its partners, Steve Jurvetson, shared his views on what he looks for in a startup when he plans to make an investment

 

Enthusiastic Founder

Jurvetson said that the first thing he notices is how enthusiastic the owner of a startup is – someone like Elon Musk who can convince that their idea will work. However, he added that it has to be in a sector which will contribute to the rapid growth of an economy during the times of huge disruptive change.

 

Innovation

In today’s rapidly changing world, innovation is a key to success. Products, such as electric cars, rockets, synthetic biology, etc., have proven to be the game changers in the IT sector. They never managed to attract venture capital in the past decades, but are high in demand nowadays. These industries have undergone massive change in the past few years, which is good for startups.

Investing in anything that takes an investor out of his comfort zone is worth it, because it leads to those crazy ideas that can change the world. However, it should be noted that it is those successful ideas that were never considered good in the beginning.

Jurvetson said that if an idea is strongly supported by a few number of people who believe it to be the future of the world, but the majority is against it, then it is a good sign.

 

Respect for the Team rather than Individual

Another factor he looks for is a founder who has respect for the team rather than individuals at work, a trait that contradicts the cult of a one man (in this case, a CEO) running the show. Having the self-confidence to stay humble about the proposals made and respecting the team are some of the additional attributes of a good startup owner.

 

What Sectors to Invest?

When talking about what sectors should venture capitalists invest in, Jurvetson hinted to Moore’s law as to how it’s penetrating into different sectors and turning lousy, low margin businesses into innovative software based businesses. Tesla is a great example that changed the course of different industries. Its contribution in the Planet labs, SpaceX, or automobile industry is a prominent example of the transitions made.

It took decades for these sectors to see entrants who transformed these industries through product enhancement. A number of investments failed during the process, yet, they are all IT based now and have gone through a massive transformation. Innovation has brought so many changes in the IT sector. For example, application of machine learning was considered a geeky subject a few years ago and only a few people at Google and other companies that worked on image recognition were familiar with the concept. But these techniques will now be widely recognized in every industry as they represent a new way of doing engineering.

 

A Way Forward

Remember, it is a two-way street. The world will experience the breakthroughs only if big companies welcome the evolution of technology. Jurvetson said that large companies that embraced innovation were the most exciting ones. A good example of this is Apple and its achievements over the years. Most of the large companies do not welcome meaningful innovations, which represent a connotation of disruption to depict the change. Embracing the change doesn’t mean a mere 10 percent improvement in processes, it shows a wow factor, such as freeing the automobile sector from gasoline consumption.

Similarly, back in the days, going to space was considered a tough job. Only a fighter pilot could qualify for a space mission with lots of training. But it is not going to be the same in future. SpaceX will soon launch a robot spacecraft where an astronaut will sit back and take a ride on the spacecraft. If the company is successful in doing that, space flights will become as frequent as air flights providing the same level of safety and fun.

Therefore, for a new idea to be successful, investors will have to support the change and big companies should embrace it. Not only will it be beneficial for a global economy, but will also make room for game-changing breakthroughs.

Startups Worthy of Investment … or not

May
11

It seems like those days are long gone when venture capitalists used SPRAY and PRAY strategy in the hope that one of the startups in the entire portfolio would make it big.

In other words, it is about time that startup companies show their ability that they are worthy of the venture capital (VC) funds.

 

Decline in the Number of VC Funded Companies

The PitchBook released the first quarter of the 2017 issue in collaboration with the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA). The statistics presented in that report were based on the thorough analysis of VC activity in the United States. According to that report, $16.5 billion was raised by 1800 companies alone. PitchBook and NVCA also observed that even though the amount of investment in the Q1 of 2017 was a bit higher than the capital invested in the fourth quarter of 2016, the number of startups has dramatically decreased to its lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2011.

 

VC Investors and Entrepreneurs Exercising Caution

It looks like the VC sector is facing a gradual decline after experiencing effervescent days of glory back in 2015.

John Gabbert, the CEO of PitchBook, said that during the past few years, the VC activity managed to attain intensified growth in the United States and now it seems to be coming back to earth. He further added that it feels like startup founders and investors have started following a more disciplined approach to investing the funds and taking reasonable caution by adopting measures, such as due diligence. These activities are carried out to secure fair deals on both sides so that each party gets something good out of it.

Ernst & Young, a London based auditing firm, reported that companies in the United States raised about 41.3 billion dollars in 2,802 VC deals in the third quarter of 2016. The San Franciso Bay area represented a total of 916 deals having a value of 16.9 billion dollars.

Jeffrey Grabow, the leader of VC in the U.S. based Ernst & Young, said that VC funding has slowed down and there are various reasons for the declining trend. The prominent reason, however, is the fact that investors want the market to absorb the already distributed capital in the market. Momentum capital has reached a later stage of VC funding and injected capital in almost every that was available in the market. Therefore, it is about time to see how it all turns out.

 

Comparison of the Number of Exits

In spite of the huge funding to a limited number of IT companies, a lot of companies fueled by $9.05 billion worth of venture capital took an exit in the first quarter of 2017. This exceeds the combined value of the IT companies’ exits in 2006, 2008 and 2009. The situation is relatively close to how it was back in 2007. If the same trend and immensity of initial public offerings and acquisitions follow, 2017 will either reach the same figure of 2014, i.e., 39.74 billion dollars, or might exceed it. Only time can tell what is to come next, but it continues to happen at the same pace, it would probably exceed the value of 2014.

IT firms around the world continue to leave behind all other kinds of businesses that are funded by venture capital. According to the NVCA and PitchBook report, Initial Public Offering of Snap and acquisition of AppDynamics by Cisco has been ranked among the top 10 biggest exits of their types during the past 10 years.

 

Investments in VC Activity

California has left behind all other states in the United States in terms of the number and value of VC investments. A total of 560 investments was made in 556 companies, which were worth 8.3 billion dollars. As far as the number of investments was concerned, New York was ranked second with a total of 218 investments. Whereas, Massachusetts was in the second position in terms of investment value as it was slightly higher than 2 billion dollars. Although, there may be a rising trend in the remote work among startup companies, yet, the concentration of venture capital is still high in the Silicon Valley.

Women Still Struggling in the World of Technology and Innovation

Apr
13

Although, it seems as if things are moving in a positive direction for female entrepreneurs, there is yet a lot to be done. Women have made accomplishment in every field, but they are still facing a number of challenges, especially when you talk about the increasing number of female startup owners and their ability to get funding.

David S. Ricketts, the senior innovation scholar at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, said that this is the number one challenge they face when their businesses are experiencing growth.

 

Challenges Faced by Women Entrepreneurs in the IT Sector

Female owners of IT companies have to come across various obstacles when they try to raise capital from venture capital firms. This holds true in case of the Silicon Valley and tech hubs in Amsterdam, Berlin, London. Not only does it adversely affect the progress of women entrepreneurs, but it is also bad for the technology sector, because restraining their leadership and talent hampers the overall growth and impede innovation. Moreover, the gender gap is rapidly increasing around the world, with 90 percent of the venture capital going to male entrepreneurs and only 10 percent retained by female founders. In addition to that, only 10 percent of the strategic level positions in tech companies are occupied by women.

According to the report by the National Women’s Business Council, women invest half the amount of capital invested by men in the startup businesses. It was further mentioned in the report that firms with female founders usually get far less equity financing from venture capitalists and angel investors as compared to companies with male owners, i.e., 14.4 percent vs. 3.6 percent.

Furthermore, only 1.8 percent of the women ask their close family or friends to raise capital as opposed to 9.2 percent men.

 

Female Entrepreneurs in the European Market

A similar trend has been observed in the European market as well, wherein, the IT sector is on the boom, yet the percentage of women leaders is a lot less as compared to men and only a small percentage of venture capital is allocated to startups led by female entrepreneurs. The United Kingdom (UK) is the second biggest startup hub after Berlin. 86 percent of the startups in the UK that receive venture capital funds are owned by men. Whereas, the percentage of angel investment secured by men and women is 56 percent and 44 percent respectively. Unfortunately, even in the IT sector, the distribution of capital is not based on merit.

With such funding constraints, women owned startups in the UK only represent 15 percent of the entire sector. They either revert to self-funding or seek crowdfunding opportunities to survive in the long run.

 

Female Entrepreneurs Generate More Revenue than Male Founders

It is worth noting that female owner companies earn 12 percent more revenue as compared to companies run by men in the IT industry, and their return on investment is 35 percent higher than the firms owned by their male counterparts. If they are given appropriate support, not only do they give better performance, but also make exceptional achievements. This holds true for women living in any part of the world.

 

How Can Female Entrepreneurs Contribute to Better and Sound Economy?

According to one estimate, if women in the UK, who wants to have their own startup companies, get the right support, they can instantly generate more than 300,000 new businesses and create more than 400,000 employment opportunities. Moreover, female-led businesses can contribute to innovation and better quality products with great consumer satisfaction.

 

The U.S. Firms, such as Backstage Capital and Kapor Capital, and the UK firms like Albright are some of the prominent examples of women-led capital firms that have proven to be the game changers in the venture capital (VC) community. To let the innovative and productive ideas flowing in the IT market, VCs should open the doors to give female-led companies a head-start, because it is possible that the owner of the next big unicorn is a female entrepreneur.

European Startups Seeking Assistance of Family Office Investors

Apr
06

There have been a number of stories about the connection between family offices and startups. Family offices are basically private wealth management instruments that are formed by rich families. There are a lot of venture capital companies that established their worth through family offices, including Greylock Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Atomico, and Frog Capital.

There are so many well-off families that have built their empires via entrepreneurship or by making seed stage investment.

 

Rising Trend of Family Offices in Venture Capital

It has been estimated that family offices around the world have $4 trillion worth of capital available for investment purposes. Moreover, there has been a rising trend of family offices in the world of venture capital.

An increased appetite for venture capital has been found among these investors. Interviews with 300 family offices around the globe, revealed that 70% of them were either actively investing in the startups or assessing the investment exposure to technology VC. However, there is another group of investors who had mixed reviews. They were still in the process of either recovering from a sudden shock or were still unsure of how to go about investing in startups effectively.

 

Consequences for Europe’s Tech World

Venture capital firms in Europe have experienced a huge funding gap with the United States. There are more technology companies in Europe as compared to the United States with high production of developers, yet, startups in the European region only receive a small percentage of investment in relation to their United States counterparts. Unless there is an improvement in this section, Europe will always lag behind in the production of tech unicorns and famous brands like Google or Apple.

Apart from large companies, family offices that currently have $759 million in asset under management should also contribute in bridging this gap.

 

Higher Returns

If you look at it from a startup or venture capitalist’s perspective, the involvement of family offices is not a big deal. Having relatively relaxed procedures, family office investors have created a stronger network as compared to institutional investors with an ability to open more avenues effectively.

It is totally understandable if you look at it from another angle. For example, family offices always look for those investment opportunities that offer a higher return. They are moving toward riskier products that offer high yield, such as a venture capital opportunity to grab prospective profitable investments.

Moreover, there was a research where it was pointed out that those who are taking control of family offices have a natural inclination and a better understanding of small scale businesses in the technology industry with ground breaking and innovative business models.

 

Changing Perception

It is true that family offices alone cannot bridge the funding gap of Europe as it requires an alliance between city or national level governments, institutional investors, angel investors, and corporate sector alongside the richest families in the world. However, it is not easily possible as it calls for a shift in perception toward venture capital, especially in Europe because it is still far behind the United States in terms of progress.

On the opposite side of the Atlantic, there is a high inclination toward taking huge risks. It is beneficial in the long run, because venture capital generates value much higher than the basic investment. In America, everyone knows that talented entrepreneurs who couldn’t make it in the first attempt are actually winners in the making, who will definitely make it big next time. Unlike America where failure is considered a stepping stone, Europe takes it as a stigma, which eventually influences their decision of capital allocation.

With the rise of technology startups in Europe, risk attitude is gradually changing among private as well as institutional investors. It is highly likely that family offices will be investing in the next wave of European innovation and research and development. This leads to increase in the number of startups that will get to the point of escape velocity and will also thrive at growth stage and beyond.

 

If the tech momentum in the European market does not die down, family offices should make a heavy investment into venture capital or else it will be left behind from other regions as well, such as Asia.

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.