Explaining the ‘lack of’ Venture Capital in Toronto


I figured it would be appropriate to write about the lack of a growing and robust venture capital community in Toronto since it cropped up in three places over the last 2 days  — once with several folks at Startup Drinks last night, today over coffee with Jeremy Laurin of OCE’s Investment Accelerator Fund and on Quora (the new social network launched by the ex-CTO of Facebook). On a side note, Quora is actually pretty snazzy with super-high-quality people.

Back to the main point of this thread — I’ve been talking about this situation for roughly 3.5 years now — first in the biotech/life science VC community in Toronto and now with the ICT community. I believe there is one problem at the root of both sectors — we need a kick-start in Canada.

What does that mean, a kick-start? Well, most people believe that there is a fundamental funding gap in Toronto’s venture community between pioneering research (in universities, by startups, etc…) and venture capital finance-able deals. That may be the case, but that is a different argument for a different day. I believe there is a more substantial funding gap that exists once a ‘successful Canadian company’ reaches the point of raising a round of capital greater than $15 million. The existing VCs in the community (generally) just can’t get those kinds of deals done. It’s not in our Canadian cards (given the average fund size, risk thresholds, etc…). Canadians need later-stage financing options (or Government money) to back those deals and to create a better later-stage ecosystem.

So, what happens instead? Great Canadian companies knock on the doors of VCs South of the border who are flushed with cash and willing to invest larger amounts in later rounds. For the record, I love US VCs. However, for the purpose of this discussion, or monologue rather, they have tended to bring companies close to home to minimize their geographical risk with the investment. Now, as companies continue to grow and are eventually sold, the successful founders and key employees of those companies often (not always) stay South of the border to further progress their careers — joining US companies, or launching other companies in those locales. Worse for Canada, those successful folks often reinvest in US VC funds or Angel invest in other local US companies rather than Canadian startups.

Envision that cycle reoccurring over and over for the last 30 years. The trend becomes large enough that a substantial amount of capital, and human capital for that matter, gets lost from the Canadian startup ecosystem.

Some say that there is a lack of venture capital in Toronto because there just aren’t great deals. I disagree. I think that there is a lot of talent in Toronto and in the surrounding areas, like Waterloo for example.

Now, the scenario I’ve described may not be the only reason for the lack of capital in Toronto (or Canada), but I feel that it is a significant part of the problem. What are your thoughts?

Subprime Melt Down Effects on Biotech


I was going through my email today when I came across some really insightful comments made by Jayson Parker, who is an associate professor of my Biotechnology program. With his expressed consent, please review some key points that highlight the effects of the US “subprime melt down” that is taking place and their relevance to the biotechnology industry.

He explains that there are two basic outcomes:

1. Core inflation is priority. If interest rates go up, it hurts biotech (as it is capital intensive and increases the cost of money for loans).

2. The housing market continues to meltdown in the US. If interest rates go down in response to a recession precipitated by the housing meltdown it will also hurt biotech (money is cheaper, but investors will assign a much higher risk to stocks and the flow of money will decrease).

Recapping some events that have take place so far:

  • The US economy has defied gravity for the past several years given the unexpected strength of consumer spending.
  • Consumer spending has been made possible by unprecedented appreciation in housing values and historically low interest rates – consumers have borrowed against this to maintain their purchases.
  • Unlike previous market bubbles, a substantial portion of consumers have leveraged themselves to be part of this current bubble – the housing market.
  • Some consumers have borrowed heavily enough against the price appreciation of their homes – that a strong market correction could leave them owing more money on their homes (negative equity).
  • In a historically low interest rate environment, some mortgage companies have offered loans to high risk clientale (e.g. NINJA – loans to folks with no income, no job and no assets) assuming far greater risk in their client base than is normally prudent.
    These risky loans have been “securitized” – meaning the debt has been repackaged – and through a series of events I don’t follow – have been included in other investment vehicles that affect more broadly the retail market.
  • The housing market in the US – which has seen more growth than in Canada – is the “canary” of US economic outlook – recent interest rate increases have seen an increase in bankruptacy rates among homeowners who cannot make their monthly payments.

Currently, the US federal reserve is meeting over the next two days to decide on whether interest rates will climb – the expectation is that it will remain status quo. Core measures of inflation (excluding indices of energy), indicate that inflation may be a concern which will eventually demand an interest rate increase. Finally, giving the “recap” above, the Federal reserve will likely will be more focused on the Housing market and in keeping bankruptacies to a miniumum by keeping interest rates as low as possible to avoid a recession. Keep your eyes on the subprime meltdown in the US over the next quarter. If we enter into a recession, there will be harder times for biotech.

Once again, I would like to thank Jayson for his insightful comments!