ELIAN D. ALVAREZ

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

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.

Governments and Venture Capital

Dec
29

Several governments around the world have started equity co-investment programs to bridge the financial gap by injecting Venture Capital (VC) to businesses that do not have sufficient capital but they have high potential. These hybrid (public/private) programs still engage private sector VC firms as a channel through which public support and a large amount of capital is invested.

 

Hybrid Scheme in the United States

In the U.S., models of the Small Business Investment Companies (SBIC) program, such as, hybrid schemes have been launched. It involves a participation by the state as a public guarantor or a special liability partner (LP) for the large part of the total capital raised for investment. Subsequently, full operational autonomy is entrusted to the general partnership (GP) by the state once the investment eligibility guidelines are agreed upon. This is done to attract investment returns to the investors, i.e., the LPs.

These models have been widely adopted by a large number of governments since the collapse of dot.com bubble that violently shook VC funding raising. Moreover, developing countries have also started showing interest in such models to encourage innovation and new startups.

 

Hybrid Venture Capital Schemes – The U.K. and Australia

Other developed countries, including the U.K. and Australia, also followed the SBIC models and designed their own Hybrid Venture Capital Schemes (HVCFs). The Enterprise Capital Fund was formed in the U.K., whereas, the Innovation Investment Fund was formed in Australia.

The UK government devised the program to provide growing startups an equity financing of £2 million ceiling. Under the program, the early stage funds, invested in the growing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups, consist of private investment by the private investors with uncapped profit share and loan or equity from the government with capped profit share. A common structure of investment is one where there is an equal distribution of profit between private and public LPs. However, to increase the expected profits of private LPs, HVCF adopts a number of mechanisms where changes are made to the profit distribution, down-side protection, timings of investments, and the payment of operating cost related to the funds.

Although, SBIC wasn’t a complete success, yet, the governments that are in favor of equity enhancement programs followed its design and changed it to match their own requirements and preferences.

 

Issues Faced by High-Technology Companies

High tech organizations face three major issues when they try to access venture capital. Firstly, they do not have enough information about venture capitalists in the market and there are limited financial channels for technology companies. Secondly, organizations that seek public venture capital causes low demand for other VCs, and thirdly, these organizations need to have creative and dedicated management teams or else they face issues in convincing VCs to provide funds, which further widens the financial gap.

 

Role of Governments in a Developing Country to Counter the Issues of High-Technology Companies

Governments of different countries have taken measures to address these issues. For example, there is a “triple-helix model” that expresses a relationship between: University – Government – Industry to promote innovation in a society.

Innovation can be brought in industry and university via direct or indirect VC investment, government stock, enactment of laws, formulation of policies, and through the promotion of high-tech SMEs. Government can play its role in different ways, i.e., by having a creative function, through venture investment regulations and tax policies that directly leave an impact on VC market, and by other measures that indirectly affect VC industry, such as regulations and laws that govern the labor market, patent, stock market, pension funds, etc.

For example, there is a city in China called Suzhou where 75 percent of the science parks are backed by municipal public VC. A special institute, which is responsible to the Local Science Committee of the central Chinese government, was developed to administer these parks. The employees of the institute are directly recruited and trained by the government. Therefore, as a developing country progresses in becoming a developed nation, a shift in the role of public VC arises from its direct participation in the market environment to provision of services.

 

Governments usually provide support to the Venture Capital markets due to perceived market failure or financing gap faced by startups or early stage businesses, and also due to the positive impact it will have to bring innovation and create job opportunities for a prosperous economy.