Archive for the ‘Adult Education’ Category

Introducing the Entrepreneur Essentials Video Series

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I’ve written about board governance challenges for startups since 1999, publishing one book, a series of three white papers, and many articles and blog posts on this topic. Because I am both a venture capitalist and a technology entrepreneur, I understand the different perspectives of entrepreneurs and investors from both sides of the boardroom table.

With this new video series, I updated and expanded fourteen years of collaborative work and have structured the content to focus on the entrepreneur’s perspective. The first video will be released on September 5.

Stay tuned for

Chapter 1      Board Dysfunction: Root Causes and Solutions

Chapter 2      Managing Risks in A Startup: Four Key Issues

Chapter 3      10 Things You Need to Know About VC’s (Before You Meet Them)

I intend to help management teams get much more of the flavor of the issues they will undoubtedly face as directors of startups.

Chapter 1, Board Dysfunction: Root Causes and Solutions, updates the material I have developed with other experienced investors and entrepreneurs, emphasizing the challenges that entrepreneurs face.

In these videos, I don’t just ask difficult questions, I answer them.

To learn more, go to my Facebook fan page Entrepreneur Essentials

Field Report From Israel: Things Are Changing, Watch Events at the Western Wall

It’s different this time.  Why?  Because in Israel the reality of demographics is catching up with those who previously believed that wishful thinking makes for sound public policy.

AO5A3900It’s hard to distill into a sound bite what’s going on in Israel and the West Bank.  Knowledgeable pundits are fond of prefacing their answers to meaningful questions about the region with, “It’s complicated…”  And it’s true.  In Israel, especially in Jerusalem, everything is complicated, because politics permeate every crevice, from issues of local real estate to childhood education.

I’ve just returned from a week in Israel, including visits to Tel Aviv, Herzliya, East Jerusalem, and the fascinating work-in-progress at the ambitious construction project of Rawabi City, as well as other sites in the West Bank.

While I have been to Israel many times since my first trip in 2002, I was fortunate join an outstanding program sponsored by the Philanthropy Workshop West for this trip.  Among the highlights of our trip, we visited a wide range of community outreach programs for ethnic groups at risk (Israeli Arabs, the Ethiopian Jews, the Bedouins) sponsored by groups including the Portland Trust, the New Israel Fund, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

What struck me most about this visit was that Israel finally appears to be acting more introspectively to address its painful social and political contradictions, acknowledging that these can no longer be left to fester from salutary neglect.

Chief among these contradictions is the discrimination of Jews against other Jews, particularly by the ultra orthodox against Jewish women who seek the right to pray at the Western Wall, and by the State of Israel against Reform and Conservative Judaism (which define Judaism in the United States) by denying these branches of Judaism official recognition and fiscal support in Israel.

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I was not expecting to hear from multiple individuals what I have felt since I first visited Israel 11 years ago: that the country cannot allow the ultra orthodox to be exempt from military service and from carrying their economic share of public services.  And there is a sense of urgency that also surprised me, a sense that this must be addressed by the legislature now.  To wit, the newly formed government majority in the Knesset, for the first time in the history of the State of Israel, excludes the ultra orthodox block, effectively taking the keys to the religious car away from these intolerant and uncompromising constituencies.

The release of the Women of the Wall from arrest, without consequence, on April 11 brings this new political reality home.  The courts overruled the police and squarely placed the blame for public disturbance on the haredim at the scene.  This is a big deal! As reported by the New York Times:

“The judge said the people disturbing public order on Thursday were a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters who were demonstrating against the women. The police said an ultra-Orthodox man was also arrested after he grabbed a book from one of the women and burned it.”

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Job training centers for the ultra orthodox are springing up, supported by U.S. NGO’s and the Israeli government, and there are waiting lists because of excess demand from haredim who wish to change their lives to consist of more than Torah study.  I view continued progress or renewed failure to achieve change in this area as a canary in the coal mine in terms of handicapping Israel’s prospective trajectory toward broader achievements with the Palestinians.

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Returning to East Jerusalem…

 

 

April 7, 2013      East Jerusalem

Local time: 4:00 AM

The wailing chant of the muezzin woke me up.  As an outsider, this unfamiliar daily call to prayer for muslims reminds me that I am not just 7,397 miles away from my home in Napa, California; I am centuries removed from the familiar frames of reference that define my daily existence.  But there is also a familiarity to all of this for me…

I started this blog in early 2005 because of a chance encounter I had with an elderly Palestinian man in East Jerusalem on November 3, 2004.  Almost nine years later, I am back…

On the surface, East Jerusalem seems cleaner and quieter to me today than it did in 2004.  I’ve been here about 14 times since my first business trip to Israel in 2002.  This Spring the weather is dry, clear, and cool.  Walking through the Old City, things feel calm, not riddled with the tension of active conflict and imbalance that I have felt on many other visits.  I’ve been asking local friends for an update on the most pressing issues in Jerusalem and, so far, I’ve been told me that one social issue of increasing concern is the degree to which gender segregation has become more pronounced, even though the public buses are no longer segregated.  At the same time, the struggle for the recognition of reform and conservative in Israel continues unabated. Some progress has been made, but it remains painfully slow due to the entrenched political power in the Knesset of the ultra-orthodox minority.  I asked one friend what the “top of mind” political issue in Israel is likely to be in the short term this year, and she said “elimination of the exemption from military service for the ultra orthodox”.  Security and Iran were not on the top three list…

This is my first time back in Israel since December 2009.   I remember vividly my first visit to East Jerusalem in 2003, when I was introduced by Rabbi David Saperstein to Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Center and founder of Women of the Wall.  We met at the Jerusalem Hotel, and this led to a random meeting with a Palestinian man who spoke fluent Spanish outside of the Interior Ministry in East Jerusalem, an encounter that started this blog.

Much has happened in my life since then- professional successes, professional failures, the death of close friends, my own divorce.  And today I look ahead with renewed vigor as I open a new book, not just a new chapter, in both my family and professional lives: remarriage, personal renewal, new business ventures, and revitalized new and old friendships.

I feel fortunate to be back in Jerusalem this week as part of a trip with the Philanthropy Workshop West.  This extraordinary group has chosen to come to Israel this year for their international workshop for a series of meetings with thought leaders and experts on the region in order to better understand the complex social fabric that defines is at the center of the conflict that defines Israel. It is a privilege for me to join them.

 

The SRS 2012 Merger and Acquisition Terms Study: Comments on Key Findings

My comments on the key findings from the Shareholder Representative Services 2012 M & A Deal Terms Study are in bold:

Deal sizes: although the median deal size* rose slightly to $75 million in 2012 from $70 million in 2011, deals $50 million or less grew to 42% of deals in 2012, up from 33% in 2011. An increase in the percentage of smaller deals in and of themselves doesn’t tell us much.  I’d like to know what percentage of those acquisitions are takeunders versus takeovers—a takeunder in this case means that the consideration paid is less than invested capital.  That’s the key statistic on the health of the acquisition market from the 42%-of-the-market-seller’s perspective.

Seller financial performance: acquisitions remain heavily weighted toward Sellers with revenue, and Sellers in the aggregate continue to show improved earnings since 2009. Coupled with a slight increase in Seller-favorable terms generally, data suggests that some degree of market leverage is returning to Sellers that have survived the downturn even as M&A activity remains deliberate. I don’t believe this last point reflects the reality of the market– unless your company is cash flow positive, a ‘slight increase’ in Seller-favorable terms means nothing given the place form which we are starting:  highly favorable terms for the buyer.  The trends absolutely support that buyers are looking for non-dilutive acquisitions.

Cash vs. stock deals: cash is still king in M&A as long-term interest rates decline. That’s for sure!

Earn-outs: usage of financial metrics (revenue and earnings) and multi-metric achievement tests is declining, accompanied by a shift toward longer earn-out periods. Beware the earnout, it is often used by the buyer as a subterfuge for reducing the back-end payment of the acquisition.

Indemnification trends: median R&W survival periods and escrow sizes have leveled off at 18 months and 10–12% of transaction values, respectively, since 2009. Other terms are increasingly Seller favorable, for example, an increase in available offsets against Buyer indemnification claim amounts and requiring that claims exceed a minimum threshold.  I’ve seen very bad behavior here and am glad the median statistics show Seller favorable trends because it can’t get much worse than it has been…

Alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”): mandatory ADR such as mediation and arbitration has steadily declined since 2010, down to 26% of deals in 2012 from 41% in 2010. I am a strong advocate of binding ADR.  Large corporations like to avoid this because they want to wait the little guy out and they have plenty of salaried staff on hand to go to court or posture as if they are prepared to do so.  I’d like to see this trend reverse.

Post-closing expense funds: the median size as a percentage of the indemnification escrow continues to trend upward, at 2.08% in 2012. This is consistent with ADR declining, as more resources that should be going to shareholders are being wasted on post-closing disputes.

Liquidity for Venture Backed Companies Still Comes Largely in One Flavor—Cash Acquisitions

Denis Dougherty of Intersouth Partners was recently interviewed by Brian Gormley of The Wall Street Journal on the decade-long liquidity crisis that continues to plague the venture capital industry. Responding to the question “What do you see as the biggest investment opportunity for venture capital in 2013?”, Dougherty said, “If we have a broadly rebounding economy, the big corporations would begin to buy products and programs that they want to have, not just the ones that they have to have. Venture capitalists that have an inventory of acquisition-ready companies will do well.”

I agree with Dennis. My concern, based on my direct experience negotiating half a dozen acquisitions sine 2008 (three in 2012), both inside and outside of technology, is that the negotiating environment for such ‘acquisition-ready’ companies is fraught with challenge from the seller’s perspective.

Recent reports reveal that mergers and acquisitions still account for over 90% of liquidity events for venture-backed companies in 2012, a lamentable condition that has plagued the US innovation ecosystem for close to a decade. In my view, many acquisitions of emerging growth companies often lead to the burial of promising technologies by incumbents more focused on protecting market share than on delivering the best product or service to their customers… (think Linksys, Flip…)

It is critical to know the state of the art in merger terms leading to an acquisition and in post-merger covenants, particularly with respect to the release of cash consideration held in escrow or as a holdback by the buyer.

Shareholder Representative Services (SRS) has produced another excellent report that investors and management teams should scrutinize very carefully before engaging in merger negotiations.

I have one general comment to make about the SRS report before reviewing its key findings:

In any negotiation, just because the average term is X, you should not abdicate your responsibility to improve your position and negotiate to get a better outcome for yourself.  You may consider some terms to be acceptable in the agreement because your lawyers tell you “it’s the market” in the heat of battle.  That might be OK, but it also might be a rock that will not always be floating above your head…

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Because the current world of venture-backed exits remains dramatically and asymmetrically skewed to the advantage of the acquirer, the aggregate statistics in the SRS report reveal a landscape pockmarked by buyer-friendly terms. Challenge yourself to do better as a seller!  More on this topic to follow…

Equity Traders Acknowledge that Structural Issues Are Crippling U.S. IPO’s

globe in handsIncreasing numbers of professionals in a position to foment meaningful change in the capital markets are recognizing that structural issues underlie the IPO drought for emerging companies with market capitalizations below $1 billion.  This must become a widely held point of view before any meaningful structural reform can take place, setting aside the legislative delays we can continue to expect from the partisan divisions that have rendered our elected leaders ineffective.

I’ve made this structural argument for over three years on this blog and in public speeches.  Again, I urge readers to make their voices heard on this topic.  On November 24, 2008 I wrote A Case Study in the Unintended Consequences of Financial Regulation:  The Death of the U.S. Small Cap IPO? and invited anyone with constructive, practical ideas on how to revitalize IPO’s in the United States to contact me so that I could pass along their ideas to my colleagues at the National Venture Capital Association. In this post, I made a strong argument that structural market issues were the root cause of the death of the small capitalization IPO:

The lack of IPO’s in the U.S. has broad, negative implications for continued risk taking by U.S. venture capitalists. If we have no public market liquidity for emerging growth companies, there will be no next generation of American technology giants. The demise of the technology IPO has also contributed to the structural breakdown in the broader cycle of research and development that underlies the American innovation crisis…

This post followed my exposition of the argument that America would face an overall crisis in innovation, drawing on work by Judy Estrin and others, in September 2008: The Innovation Crisis Is Coming- Let’s Do Something About it Now!

Sadly, the veracity of these arguments is being proven over and over again, as the venture capital industry continues to shrink and the fallacy of an American jobless recovery becomes apparent.  Pointing to the success of several handfuls of social media companies as an index for the general health of innovation in the U.S. in 2011 is not statistically meaningful and irrelevant to the thousands of startups that are finding it impossible to reach the much greater critical mass necessary to access the public equity capital markets today.  To be clear, publicly traded household names that would not be able to go public today based on current IPO requirements include Dell, Intel, EMC, Yahoo!, Intuit, EA Sports, and many others.

access deniedIn an article published on October 6, 2011 in Traders Magazine.Com, conference remarks by several leading international stock exchange professionals show that they are coming around to understanding the downside to small companies of a trading market infrastructure that treats unknown emerging public companies the same way as multi-billion dollar liquid securities:

“Though trading costs have gone down, that isn’t necessarily a good thing, according to Steve Wunsch, head of corporate initiatives at the ISE Stock Exchange. He said low trading costs have made it difficult for anyone to make money trading smaller names, thus drying up markets for smaller companies.”

Joseph Hall, a partner with the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardell, said the government could have caused part of the problem by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act’s separation of investment banks and commercial banks. That allowed a lot of small brokers to be bought up by big banks, reducing niche trading, he said.

Grant Thornton’s [David] Weild placed more of the blame on Reg NMS, which he said homogenized the markets to the detriment of new issuers. He said a one-size-fits-all market structure does not support smaller, newer companies.

The good news, Weild said, is that Washington seems to be paying attention. …

In my view, the bad news is that it’s taken three years since the global financial crisis erupted for us to get an increasing number of influential people to pay attention.  Meanwhile, millions of jobs have been lost, and innovation in America continues to suffer.

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New Book by Professor Mannie Manhong Liu and Pascal Levensohn– Venture Capital: Theory and Practice, published by the University of International Business and Economics Press, Beijing

I never expected to have my first book published in China, much less in Mandarin, but that goes to show how much the world continues to change.  My contributions to this undergraduate textbook, Venture Capital: Theory & Practice, are the result of two important collaborations.  First, the body of collaborative work on corporate governance best practices that I have developed since 1999 with other venture capitalists and professional service providers to the venture industry; and, second, the direct collaboration on venture capital that resulted from meeting Professor Mannie Manhong Liu in the summer of 2007 at the  Symposium on Building the Financial System of the 21st Century between China and the US, sponsored by the Harvard Law School together with the CDRF (China Development Research Foundation) and PIFS (the Program on International Financial Systems).

Venture Capital started in China in 1985, when the first government-sponsored venture capital firm was established. The industry built slowly until a few years into the new century. In 2006, China’s total venture capital investment reached $1.78 B, becoming number two globally, next to the US; the US venture capital investment was $25.6B that year, accounting for 67.9% of the world total ($37.7b).  While China was far behind, accounting for about 4.7% of the total, nevertheless, China became number two and has kept that status ever since.

Venture Capital is a popular buzzword in China. Renmin University was among the first universities to create a venture capital major in the School of Finance and teach venture capital for undergraduates.  In recent years, many universities have followed, teaching venture capital as an elective course. In October 2010, our new textbook will become available.

Mannie and I share a strong interest in research in the field of venture capital and private equity. Mannie was working for Professor Josh Lerner at Harvard Business School before she returned to China to teach these subjects. The backbone for my contribution to our effort is the best practices work “for practitioners by practitioners” that I have developed in the area of venture capital through the multiple articles and three white papers that I’ve written.

Mannie was invited by a publisher in Beijing to write a textbook for undergraduate students in China; she in turn invited me to join her as the book’s co-author. Writing the book was a very intensive task, and both of us have worked on it for many months, with Mannie and her team translating my work and both of us discussing the context of the content for the Chinese audience.

Venture Capital: Theory and Practice, is in Chinese and is categorized as one of  “China’s National College Major Investment Textbook Series for the ‘Twelfth Five-Year Plan.’” The book has three parts and a total of 12 chapters. The Theory includes chapters on the venture capital concept, entrepreneurship, and a simple history; The Practice covers fundraising, business plan construction and analysis, investment due diligence, post investment monitoring and exit; and The Future emphasizes early stage investment, especially angel investment, as well as Cleantech VCs and socially responsible investment.  In the last chapter, Venture Capital in China, we explore the amazing development of China’s unique venture capital industry.

This textbook combines the strength of my Silicon Valley experiences as a venture capitalist and Mannie’s research as a professor, and it will help strengthen Chinese college-education programs in this particular field.  The book draws on and acknowledges important contributions from the members of the Working Group on Director Accountability and other experts in the field of venture capital.  I’ve donated all of my royalties from the book to the Society of Kauffman Fellows, which reported on the publication of this book in their July report.

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: (10) Are limited partner defaults on capital commitments triggering a wave of lawsuits in the venture industry?

images-11This is the last in our series of 10 frequently asked questions from investors in venture capital partnerships.

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

Question: I’ve read that some GPs are suing LPs for not making capital calls. The LPs claim that they are cash constrained and/or the VC fund has not performed. Why throw more money their way? Do you see a trend here of broken contracts?

Answer: First, it would appear that the reports of numerous LP  defaults exceed the reality. Based upon discussions with industry  participants, most institutional LPs have, in fact, met their  obligations to make capital calls. Second,  the decision of a GP to sue an LP over a default is most often the absolute  last resort. The GPs are not in business to institute litigation — this a  distraction for the GP and added publicity that neither GPs nor LPs desire.  When the LP Agreement is executed, all of the parties enter into a contract  with the expectation that both LPs and GPs will honor their respective  commitments. The GPs have committed their time, and have built an organization  to implement an investment strategy and program for the fund. They should be  entitled to rely on the contractual obligations of those sophisticated  investors who agreed to support this program over the long  term.

VC Governance FAQ: (9) Does an anemic IPO market deter VC investing?

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This is the ninth 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: Do you think than anemic IPO market will remain a deterrent to VC investing?

Yes I do.  I believe that an entire generation of American innovation is at risk as a result of the lack of IPO’s.  The statistics are overwhelming in support of my position, starting with the fact that over 90% of jobs created by VC-backed companies occur AFTER their IPO—and this has been the case for 40 years.  What concerns me the most about the IPO vacuum is that it is systemic and is the result of a “one size fits all mentality” when it comes to regulation of the securities industry.  A relatively unknown emerging growth public company with a $500 million market cap has different needs for research and trading support to provide liquidity for investors than IBM.  I remain surprised that this seems to be difficult for our policy makers to understand, but I am encouraged that the SEC has recently invited public comments for a 90 day period to address structural problems with the U.S. equity markets.

Specifically, the SEC wants to know if anyone from the public has thoughts on whether the current market structure is fundamentally fair to investors and supports capital raising functions for companies of various sizes, and whether intermarket linkages are adequate to provide a cohesive national market system”. The Commissioners expressed particular interest in receiving comments from a wide range of market participants. Comments on the Concept Release are due within 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

For more on the SEC Concept Release, click HERE

I believe that the U.S. equity capital markets must be structured with the goal of promoting the growth of publicly held small businesses in America.  America had this structure in place prior to 1997, and we should take a hard look at what has changed to render the small company IPO extinct (contrary to popular belief, it first became an endangered species before the technology bubble).

images-15Compounding this problem is the fact that, with no IPO options, the consideration paid for companies in trade sales—acquisition by larger companies—has been declining.  Why should venture capitalists take the risks associated with starting up a new company, working through all of the difficulties with multiple financing rounds and executive changes over a six-to-eight or even ten-year period, only to get backed into a corner by a large multinational that dominates the sales channel and can wait them out?

The biggest problem the VC industry has today is that, absent access to public market capital, there are too few VC-backed companies that are self sustaining cashflow generators.  The biggest problem that the U.S. economy has today is unemployment.  You would think that maybe the stewards of the U.S. economy, our legislators, could make some structural changes to our small company capital markets regulations to fuel the greatest job creation engine in America—the entrepreneur driving an emerging growth company.  This problem goes way beyond venture capital—as 47% of all IPO’s since 1991 were backed by neither VC’s or private equity firms—this is an American problem.