Posts Tagged ‘capital markets’

Update on America’s Slipping Global Competitiveness– Implications for Intellectual Property Development of Senate Bill 515

ot_logoThis morning I gave the keynote speech at the ICAP Ocean Tomo IP auction in San Francisco.  My remarks explained the relationship between the long-term decline in America’s global competitiveness, the impact of the capital markets crisis on new investment in research and development, and specifically addressed Senate Bill 515, the pending U.S. legislation that will transform the U.S. patent system and broadly impact intellectual property rights in our country.  Some excerpts follow, and you can download the entire speech and slides by clicking at the bottom of this post:

“The absence of cohesion in American public policy can be seen in many areas—with cybersecurity coming immediately to mind.  Mike McConnell, former director of the National Security Agency, recently wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post on why the U.S. is losing the cyber war, commenting that “The problem is not one of resources; even in our current fiscal straits, we can afford to upgrade our defenses. The problem is that we lack a cohesive strategy to meet this challenge.

This lack of cohesiveness comes from short-term thinking that has become prevalent in many aspects of American society.   The notion that “posterity doesn’t matter” has unfortunately taken root in our country, and this has led to fragmented approaches to public policy solutions across the board, corroded leadership among our elected representatives, and contributed to an entitlement culture and a lack of accountability that permeate much of American society.”

“The key obstacle to moving [patent] reform forward continues to be disagreement between several large high-tech companies, namely the group of Cisco, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and Intel, on the one hand, and life sciences organizations such as PhRma, BIO, MDMA, AdvaMed, Universities, several union groups, the NVCA, and others, on the other hand, over the idea of creating a new post-grant review procedure within the PTO and over the proposal on apportionment of damages in infringement cases.

As we consider the broad implications of this polarizing issue, we must first step back and remember that inventors and investors devote time, energy and risk capital to innovate new products and technologies.  Since the drafting of our country’s Constitution and even well prior to the establishment of the United States, it was understood that the greater good was served with a patent system that encourages this type of risk taking by protecting inventions resulting from innovation.  It is also understood, though in our country it appears to have been forgotten, that innovation, and job creation, come not just from large, well-funded enterprises, but in large part result from the efforts of small companies and individuals laboring to make a better mouse trap.

The core principles underlying the patent system have not changed.  We need to encourage and reward those that take risk to innovate new products, services and technologies.  Unfortunately, the patent system that served us so well for so long is under assault.  The cost of filing patents has increased dramatically.  The cost of enforcing patents has gone through the roof.  Injunctions have been taken away except for cases of head-to-head competition in the patented item.  Patents are now easier to invalidate after-the-fact.  A patent holder can no longer offer his/her patents for license without putting himself/herself at risk of litigation that he/she may not be able to afford.  Innovation involving patents has become a rich-man’s game, with an increasingly uncertain chance of return.

At a high level, we need to understand that anything that changes our patent system creates winners and losers.  In general, changes that weaken the patent system hurt inventors and innovators, while benefiting large companies with established market positions (e.g., monopolists) and low cost producers (e.g., offshore companies with lower labor costs, fixed currencies and weaker environmental standards).

Some argue for changes in the patent system based on a claim that non-practicing entities, often pejoratively called trolls, have too much power.  Some extraordinary examples, such as NTP seeking an injunction that would shut down Congress’ use of Blackberrys and some high dollar jury awards and settlements, have been cited by some as sufficient reason to argue for a radical restructuring of the way that patents are filed, challenged and enforced in court.

We need balance in this process, as changes may have the unintended affect of hurting those that we need now more than ever – inventors, entrepreneurs and investors that will innovate and create jobs here in the U.S.”

For a full transcript of the speech, including the slides, CLICK HERE.

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VC Governance FAQ: (8) How can a limited partner exit from a VC fund?

images-16This is the eighth in our series of ten frequently asked questions from investors in venture capital partnerships.

Susan Mangiero, CEO of Investment Governance’s Fiduciary X, asked me the following:

Question: What happens if an LP wants to exit a VC fund? What are their rights?

Answer: The options here are limited, and they are (1) the LP can try to sell their interest, including the obligation to fund future capital calls, to a fund that acquires secondary interests.  The good news is that a robust market exists for such interests in venture capital partnerships today; or (2) default.  If you do wish to sell, the GP needs to approve the transfer, and the standard partnership agreement language leaves this decision in the “sole discretion” of the GP.  There is no free lunch if you change your mind several years into a 10-year-plus partnership participation. And there shouldn’t be, which also means that either the secondary market buyer will take their pound of flesh by buying the LP’s interest at a substantial discount, or the GP will by offering the interest and its economic value on a discounted basis to the other LP’s.  It is far less disruptive to the GP and to the GP-LP relationship for the exiting partner to sell to a secondary buyer, but these buyers are totally financially driven and are going to get the best deal possible for themselves.

VC Governance FAQ: (2) Especially now, when transparency is so important, why is limited financial information available from a private company?

images-3This is the second in our series of ten frequently asked questions from investors in venture capital partnerships.

Susan Mangiero, CEO of Investment Governance’s Fiduciary X, asked me the following:

Question: At a time when transparency is so important to institutional investors, how can fiduciaries reconcile that there is limited information available with a private company?

Answer: Actually there is plenty of financial information available from private companies, but that does not mean that it is available to institutional investors as passive investors who are Limited Partners in venture capital or other private equity partnerships.

Putting that point aside, for a moment, what is absent is a quoted liquid market in their equity and debt securities, which means that the determination of the book value of those private companies is necessarily subjective. Institutional, or any other investors, for that matter, who choose to invest in illiquid securities, presumably do so because they expect to obtain superior returns from the illiquid securities at the end of the investment period than they would from liquid securities over the same period—otherwise it’s not worth giving up the liquidity and taking the risk of the longer holding period. To get to the core of your question, providing passive institutional investors with more financial information about illiquid securities isn’t going to make them more liquid.  They key is whether you can rest assured that the general partner who is responsible for managing your investment is honoring the trust that you have placed in that manager.

There has been a multi-year move among auditors, driven by demand for greater transparency in understanding the process behind the book valuation of private, illiquid investments, to bring more of a “mark to market” approach in the way the general partners of private equity partnerships value their portfolios.  Before I discuss this in more detail, I should fully answer your question:  the main reason why general partners, particularly in venture capital, should legitimately limit the amount of information they disclose to their investors about their private investments is (1) competitive considerations, particularly for disruptive emerging technologies where protecting intellectual property and market competition from large companies are defining elements in the company’s potential for success.

Having said that, if a sophisticated institutional investor insists on having the right to inspect the details about specific private investments, see business plans, and otherwise get details about the company, if they are prepared to sign a confidentiality agreement and have a good reason for wanting to see this information, it certainly exists and can be made available.

To address the broader point about accuracy in book valuation, I am concerned that the developing industry standard for venture capital is at risk of going too far while providing no real benefit to investors. I see the auditors forcing excessive quarterly compliance burdens on the general partners, and this trend has been developing since the institution of 409a valuations for common stock.  The reason I feel this burden is unnecessary is because, in my view, the additional information may be very precise without being accurate.

The fact remains that you don’t know the value of a private asset unless you actually intend to sell it.  And in venture capital, the second you become a forced seller of a company, you have given it the equivalent of the kiss of death.  For many emerging companies, the moment that you become a bona fide seller and are perceived to have to sell the asset, the value will be diminished—so you can imagine why the lack of an IPO market is the single greatest source of distress for venture capital in the U.S.  To conclude on this question, I’d like to emphasize that, in my view, for early stage companies with little or no revenue, valuation models driven by public equity or option inspired equity models simply make no sense.

ACORE REFF West Conference Keynote Abstract, September 30

imagesThis coming Wednesday I will be speaking at the REFF West conference in San Francisco about the capital markets crisis and its impact on American innovation. Given the recent upwelling of popular press articles heralding the return of IPOs, my views, which are supported by newly released long-term statistics,are likely to generate some discussion. An abstract of my remarks follows:

The capital markets crisis has put an entire generation of American emerging growth companies at risk. America’s traditional leadership in entrepreneurial growth and innovation is now visibly faltering. This is the result of decades of government and corporate emphasis on short-term development at the expense of funding long-term, basic breakthrough research. Our nation’s lawmakers do not broadly recognize the public policy agenda implications of the fact that technology innovation has gone global. Recently published comparative international economic data reveals long-term declining rates of growth in U.S. government, corporate, and academic Research & Development (R&D) spending, particularly in Information Technology (IT). Further, a new study of the global capital markets illustrates the steep decline of the U.S. global share of public company listings for over a decade while other global stock exchanges have grown and flourished. All of these signs point to America’s slipping global competitiveness.

The global financial crisis has drained risk capital from the private sector at the worst possible time, compounding the effect of decades of neglect of our nation’s IT R&D infrastructure. Of direct consequence to the emerging Cleantech industry, the continuing IPO drought is a symptom of a deeper systemic liquidity crisis for small capitalization companies.

Predictions that U.S. IPOs are about to come back in a meaningful manner are wishful thinking. The current threshold criteria for liquidity as defined by the dominant underwriters in the U.S. accommodate only a small minority of the viable private companies seeking public growth capital. The severity of this untenable situation is compounded by a lack of awareness among our nation’s policymakers that all of these factors are interrelated (the announcement by the White House of an American Innovation Strategy last Monday notwithstanding).

It is not too late to address these challenges with realistic, achievable solutions that will enable structural capital markets reform. We must take specific actions to reverse the unintended consequences of a series of securities regulations bolted onto a framework that has been eclipsed by electronic trading and increasingly left behind in a fundamentally transformed global competitive environment. We must also recognize that, just as we nurture our startups in the unique environment of Silicon Valley, we must provide a public market structure that nurtures our fledgling IPOs and that allows middle market underwriters to support these companies with sufficient liquidity and with thorough, responsible research coverage.

Achieving these goals in the public equity markets does not require the relaxation of Sarbanes Oxley or of other recently implemented measures of corporate governance oversight and director accountability. To respond effectively, however, our legislators and regulators must share a sense of urgency to develop a coherent national innovation agenda that acknowledges new capital formation and new job creation through IPOs as top national priorities.

Business Week Report on “Radical Future of R&D” Misses Critical Capital Markets Link in Innovation Ecosystem

imagesThe cover story of the September 7 issue of Business Week reports on the “Radical Future of R&D“, focusing on the internationalization of research and development led by global corporations such as IBM and Hewlett Packard.  The magazine includes a story written by Adrian Slywotzky, “How Science Can Create Millions of New Jobs.” Mr. Slywotzky  is an “author of several books on profitability and growth” and currently a partner at the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.  While the article makes important points about the sorry state of the American R&D ecosystem, the author neglects to mention that, in order to achieve the goal of new job creation,  healthy U.S. capital markets are essential and intimately linked to new funding commitments to basic scientific research.

The article cites the extraordinary decline of Bell Labs over several decades as an example of the model that we must seek to restore, and he makes other basic points about the decline in our nation’s R&D efforts.  These valid observations may be drawn from primary research sources such as the work published by the National Academies, whose most recent report, Assessing the Impact of Changes in the Information Technology R&D Ecosystem: Retaining Leadership in an Increasingly Global Environment, was released several months ago.  The article points to America’s innovation crisis along lines that have been articulated in greater detail by thought leaders including Judy Estrin and Norm Augustine.

Unfortunately, Mr. Slywotzky makes an important assertion about venture capital that is incorrect. I believe that, if he understood the reality of the venture capital industry today and its inextricable link to the Initial Public Offering (IPO) drought, his otherwise well-written article would have taken a markedly different direction.  Below, I quote several parts of the article that I found particularly useful, and I point out the error:

First, the positive:

“America needs good jobs, soon.  We need 6.7 million just to replace losses from the current recession, then an additonal 10 million to keep up with population growth and to spark demand over the next decade.  In the 1990s the U.S. economy created a net 22 million jobs, or 2.2 million a year.  But from 2000 to the end of 2007, the rate plunged to 900,000 a year.  The pipeline is dry because the U.S. business model is broken.  Our growth engine has run out of a key fuel– basic research.”

PASCAL’S COMMENT:  Basic research is a key fuel, but, in fact, the part of the U.S. business model that drives job growth in emerging growth companies is IPOs.  More on this below.

“It’s tempting to ascribe current job losses in the U.S. to the deep recessionor to outsourcing, but the root of the problem is the absence of high-value job creation.”

PASCAL’S COMMENT: Correct!

“… in recent years, outsourced software and manufacturing jobs have largely been replaced by millions of low-wage service jobs in fast-food, retail, and the like. . . . Of the roughly 130 million jobs in the U.S., only 20%, or 26 million, pay more than $60,000 a year.  The other 80% pay an average of $33,000.  That ratio is not a good foundation for a strong middle class and a prosperous society.”

PASCAL’S COMMENT:  This is astounding and very bad news indeed.

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Now, the mistake:

“Venture capitalists are sitting on plenty of cash and are good at bringing startups to the market.  We just have to rebuild the upstream labs that focus on basic research– the headwaters for the whole innovation ecosystem.”

FULL STOP.  First, the venture capital business is contracting severely:

From the April 18th, 2009 NVCA/PWC Moneytree report: “Venture capitalists invested just $3.0 billion in 549 deals in the first quarter of 2009, according to the MoneyTree™ Report from
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), based on data provided by Thomson Reuters.  Quarterly investment activity was down 47 percent in dollars and 37 percent in deals from the fourth quarter of 2008 when $5.7 billion was invested in 866 deals.  The quarter, which saw double digit declines in every major industry sector, marks the lowest venture investment level since 1997.”  for more industry statistics, CLICK HERE

Second, it’s just not that simple.  Mr. Slywotzky is ignoring the fact that over 90% of job growth from venture-backed companies occurs AFTER their IPO, and this has been the case since the 1970’s.  We have an IPO drought that has killed the small IPO, and it is systemic, not cyclical.  I have been speaking to this point publicly since March 2009.

A new study is going to be released in the next several weeks which will bring to light very important data about the long-term secular trend of declining public company listings in the U.S. Not only does this add tothe mountain of data showing America’s slipping global competitiveness, most importantly, the study develops a model establishing a direct relationship between this trend and American job losses.  Publicly traded emerging growth companies are the most rapid job creation engine in America, and successfully harvesting the long-term economic growth fruits from basic scientific research is tethered to this post-IPO job creation engine.

To be clear, IPOs, particularly IPOs raising less than $50 million, have become largely extinct due to unintended consequences resulting from a series of securities regulations that followed the rise of electronic trading networks in 1996.  The new capital markets study, which this blog will point to as soon as it is released, is written by David Weild and Edward Kim of CMA Partners.  Weild and Kim are also the authors of the important white paper published last November by Grant Thornton, ‘Why Are IPOS in the ICU?’.

Yes, we need to restore the U.S. Government’s commitment to funding breakthrough innovation in basic scientific research.  But we also need to take aggressive actions to protect critical elements of our nation’s innovation ecosystem and stop treating it as a series of loosely connected elements.  Government research centers, university centers of research excellence, corporations, and venture capitalists are commonly bound to the most important element of this ecosystem, the entrepreneur.  It is naive to believe that just promoting basic research will magically ripple though the innovation landscape and restore America’s lost greatness.  Understanding the complexity of this issue requires interdisciplinary and unconventional thinking. It also requires an understanding of how capital markets actually work and applying real world solutions to resolve an urgent problem– the death of the small cap IPO.

Reversing Unintended Consequences From Regulation is Critical to Restoring Small Company IPO’s

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I liked the Friday, August 7 Wall Street Journal editorial, Washington vs. Silicon Valley, but it does not go far enough.  In Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, and other innovation centers across the country, entrepreneurs and their backers (who are not limited to venture capitalists) are all keenly aware that Washington’s addiction to enacting hasty, one-size-fits–all financial regulation will continue to have far-reaching unintended negative consequences for the U.S. economy:

“… Sarbanes-Oxley compliance costs, Eliot-Spitzer’s stock analyst settlement and the economic downturn have created an historic drought in venture-backed companies going public.  . . .  It boggles the mind that Washington would enact new policies sure to prolong this (IPO) drought and strike at the heart of American innovation.” (from the WSJ editorial)

The U.S. IPO drought testifies to a systemic liquidity crisis for emerging growth companies that is putting at risk an entire generation of innovative American companies.  IPO’s are essential to job growth in America and to maintaining a balanced innovation ecosystem for two important reasons.  First, the National Venture Capital Association has published data revealing that over 90% of the jobs created by venture-backed companies occur AFTER they go public—and this relationship holds over the past 40 years.  Second, emerging growth companies lose negotiating leverage in acquisitions when they have no other viable liquidity alternatives.  Between 2001 and 2008 mergers and acquisitions (M&A) accounted for 87% of venture-backed company exits, up from an average of 44% in between 1992 and 2000.

Large corporations are generally not known for being innovative and even less for creating new jobs after acquiring other companies (merger “synergy” is code for firing people). In the current liquidity starved environment, some acquirers are able to drive draconian acquisition terms, including features such as two-year contingent calls on up to 100% the cash proceeds to selling investors.

Venture capital partnerships are typically ten-year partnerships with historically proven expectations that significant liquidity will be delivered from successful partnerships to investors by year 6. The median age of a venture-backed company at the time of its IPO has increased from 4.5 years in 1998 to 9.6 years as of year-end 2008.  The median company age at the time of an M&A exit has increased from 3 years to 6.5 years over the same time frame.

What makes this combination untenable is that the IPO drought, combined with lengthy “tails” on lower-value merger payouts, pushes liquidity out much closer to the end of life of the partnerships themselves, making it impossible for investors to re-cycle their prior risk capital to fund the next generation of innovative companies based on previously valid asset allocation models.  The massive institutional investor losses incurred from investments in asset classes unrelated to venture capital due to the global financial crisis have only fanned the wildfire fire burning in the American innovation forest.

We must solve the IPO problem, and a review of historic IPO data pre-technology bubble suggests that we need to achieve an average of 130 IPO’s per year to restore equilibrium to the venture-backed company liquidity cycle.   While Sarbanes Oxley compliance costs and the stock analyst settlement are part of the problem, the root causes include the decimalization of stock trading commissions and the death of the sub $50 million IPO.

Investors take risk in order to reap rewards.  Washington needs to recognize, first and foremost, that entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, institutional investors, market markers, and underwriters all seek to be rewarded for committing risk capital (which includes sweat equity) to making these highly risky ventures successful.  If the upside is taken away by regulations that make the risk/reward equation unattractive, risk capital and entrepreneurs will leave the U.S.  That exodus has already begun, and it is evident in many statistics that testify to America’s slipping global competitiveness since 1999.

Sadly, risk aversion is the order of the day in Washington at a time when we need risk takers to lead America to a new cycle of sustainable economic growth through new job creation.  It’s past time for our policymakers to unwind the unintended consequences of a decade of ill-conceived securities regulations that have already weakened our innovation ecosystem.  Let’s start by advocating policies that will bring risk-taking entrepreneurs and technology innovators back to the table before the American cupboard is bare.