As early stage investors we need to start getting real about the wisdom of our backing early stage, high growth ventures without far more consideration being given to where we source follow-on growth capital.
Even if we only look at last year’s New Zealand Venture Investment Fund’s seed co-investment data where about $50million was invested in early stage companies, the growth capital required for this cohort of companies is likely to be 10x this figure. So we are talking about finding $500m.
This is not just a problem for the investors in these companies; it’s a problem we need to grapple with in partnership with the government and the institutional investment community. These high growth companies are the engines of our economic growth. We can’t afford to drop the ball.
The development of an innovation led economy is widely accepted to take place over three ten-year horizons. We are coming to the end of ‘horizon one’ where the focus has been on inputs. New Zealand has done well here. The number of startups, early stage investors and dollars being invested has trended upwards over this period.
In the second ten-year horizon we should start to see outcomes from these innovation led companies in the form of jobs, export and tax revenue. But to generate these outcomes and see the true benefit of this investment, we need growth capital. Only then will the third horizon truly deliver in the form of financial returns and recycled capital and ultimately higher standards of living.
As I’ve just mentioned, there is no shortage of deal flow. The quality of that deal flow is improving every year too. This is in large part due to Government support for initiatives such as the Lightning Lab and the investor-led Tech Incubators. It is also a result of work others have done to upskill our entrepreneurs and angel investors.
To date, angels and other early stage investors have been able to fund the early growth of the companies meeting their criteria. We have been investing in startup, high growth ventures in a targeted sense for about 8 years but the really exponential upswing in investment has taken place in the last 3-4 years.
Quite logically, there is therefore an increasing and pressing need for growth capital in New Zealand.
This is illustrated in the recently released NZVIF data showing most investment is into existing deals. Angels are having the stay the course longer and dip back in their pockets for capital it could be argued should be coming from deeper more experienced pockets.
We need to give credit to those venture capital firms raising funds to meet the need for growth capital such as Movac’s Fund 4, the $40m fund GD1 is working hard to raise and the $40m fund raised by Oriens Capital. But it is not enough.
Closing the “growth capital gap” is going to need New Zealand’s pension and other institutional funds to broaden their investment mandates to allocate at least 3-5% to the growth needs of our high growth, early stage companies. We must support work Immigration NZ is doing to inject capital from experienced high network migrants into these companies. We need to tap into our rural and regional wealth more effectively. We have therefore been delighted to see angel networks forming in Taranaki and Marlborough reflecting an increasing awareness that high growth, tech based companies can be the source of future jobs and social and economic wealth in the regions. The banks also need to come to the party.
There is a great deal at stake here. We can’t afford “a hands off, market forces will deliver” approach. If ever a NZ Inc approach was needed, it is now.
Marcel Van Den Assum
Angel Association New Zealand