Startup investment scene in NZ, like the rest of the world, is changing fast


The world of investment in startups is changing, and what’s happening in the rest of the world will soon be occurring downunder.

Part of the change comes about because one of the little uncool secrets of the venture capital world, is, generally speaking, it ain’t doing that well from a returns point of view.

And, it is not only in New Zealand that VC funds are finding it tricky to attract new capital. Around the globe apparently, more than 1700 VC firms are looking for more cash.

The biggest and best known VC firms such as Khosla Ventures (investor in LanzaTech) and others are getting bigger. These super VC’s are managing to provide a decent return mainly by virtue of the fact that they get first pick – they’re the best known, so people go to them early on; and many of the ideas will be crackers.

But back in the USA, it is estimated that half of the institutional investors who invest in VCs are going to refuse to put in anymore promised monies (they don’t put in all the money upfront, instead drip feeding it in). These Limited Partners are effectively saying to the VC, ‘sue me’, banking that they won’t.

Here in New Zealand, we’re not immune to under-performing, or even completely unperforming VC companies. Apparently the Number 8 Ventures Number One fund made absolutely no money for its investors. The Number 8 Ventures Number Two fund got off the ground before Number One reported back its performance.

This isn’t a surprising way of doing things, indeed similar things happen in the USA as, Hatm Tyabil and Vijay Sathe provide in a great overview article of ‘Venture Capital Firms in America: Their Caste System and other Secrets’ here.

The NZ Venture Investment Fund, and their associated VC partners have been pleading for more time (than the originally estimated seven years) to obtain a return from the fledgling companies they invested in. NZVIF and its VC partners have just started to exit some of their investments, HaloIPT, and inductive power transfer technology to Qualcomm for millions of dollars – the first of what must be hoped is a number of divestments.

All of which is a roundabout way of pointing out a fascinating article by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, at Businessinsider.com. His article on ‘The Way Companies are Getting Financed is Completely Changing’ is here.

Gorby argues that though the VC market is moribund, there are many new financing options for growing companies that weren’t available a year ago.

These include:
 Crowdfunding
 Accelerators
 Super-angels
 Late-stage private equity
 The long-delayed IPO

He goes into some detail explaining these options, most of which have a parallel in New Zealand.

There isn’t, yet, a local crowdfunding play. For that matter there doesn’t have to be in a sense, since the way global markets work, a newly hatching start-up can hang their shingle, put their pitch on sites such as AngelList.com or Kickstarter.com (similar but for ‘creatives’) and see if they garner enough collective money to allow them to get going.

The Securities Market Conduct Bill might manage to get through Parliament in the first quarter of next year, and this contains provisions for peer to peer lending (for smaller amounts that doesn’t require the person receiving the money to issue a prospectus) which will legally allow crowdfunding type setups in New Zealand.

Who fills this Kiwi-centric void will be a fascinating space to watch next year.

Accelerators are a more advanced, more IT-centric form of our incubators. The incubators are doing a reasonable job in New Zealand, and as a previous sticK story reported, MED can’t kill them (see here).

The angel investment scene has been an expanding bright spot – with early November’s Angels Summit in Tauranga deliberately coinciding with the announcement of a new ‘Enterprise Angels’ body centred on the Bay of Plenty. It initially has $4 million in its investment pot

New Zealand’s Angels are filling some of gap currently not able to be filled by VCs, as most are fully subscribed by their investment companies. An exception is the Movac #3 fund which is now looking for investment opportunities.

It is the later, slightly more mature start-ups that find it difficult to expand in New Zealand.

These slightly larger companies are still too small for private equity companies to buy out, while a stockmarket listing is usually deemed too expensive and/or comes with too many reporting obligations.

This is part of the NZ conundrum called the ‘Valley of Death’ funding gap. It’s the $2 million to $10 million next capital injection required by growing companies, expanding their footprint across the rest of the world.

All and all, this means the next period of startups and commercialisation and investment promising to be very interesting in New Zealand.

The development of new funding options will coincide with the launch of the Science and Innovation Council (to be chaired by a senior cabinet minister, with sticK speculating it will be John Key; see story here).

It’s all part of a stirring of the innovation pot (actually turning a good idea into something that makes money).

The more this happens, the more it will happen. It’s a virtuous spiral that can only be good for all of us.

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About sticknz

sticK is by Peter Kerr, a writer for hire. I have a broad science and technology background and interest, with an original degree in agricultural science. My writing speciality is making the complex understandable. I am available for outside consultancy work, and for general discussions of converting a good idea into something positive
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One Response to Startup investment scene in NZ, like the rest of the world, is changing fast

  1. Neal says:

    The NZ VC community is inexperienced and tried to ‘[pick’ winners instead of creating them. This is the fundamental difference between US and NZ VCs. In the States, a VC brings more than money to the game. We simply do not have enough talent in our management ranks within the VC community to make it work here. Vinod Khosla, during his recent visit, said, “New Zealand has the companies” we’re just not positioning them properly.

    Failed models like Endeavour Capital and WaikatoLink are exemplary of how not to do it as they encumber technologies that should be spun out to free-standing and fundable companies. Instead some of our best companies are hobbies for university tech transfer offices who use them as funding sources to squeeze more money out of the government that, ultimately, produces nothing for NZ other than those tech transfer groups.

    The US VC model has changed form the 1980’s when smaller amounts were put into companies and lower returns were expected. But they created winners by finding good technologies that were in companies managed by professionals, with clear business plans and exit strategies. This is not to say they didn’t adjust their businesses, but their success was built not picked like the winner of the Melbourne cup.

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