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?

Larry Cheng Updates Global VC Blog List


Larry Cheng updated his Global VC Blog list today (originally posted in May 2009 as top-100 in Google Reader subscriptions) and has re-ranked the global top VC blogs by average monthly unique visitors on compete.com for Q4 2009 (oct+nov+dec)/3.

As per the latest global VC blog listing, Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures (Blog: A VC) took the top spot, shifting Guy Kawasaki from Garage Technology Ventures (Blog: How To Change The World) into second place.

Here’s the top 1012 for Q4 2009:

  1. Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures, A VC (100,279)
  2. Guy Kawasaki, Garage Technology Ventures, How To Change The World (82,838)
  3. Paul Graham, YCombinator, Essays (71,924)
  4. Brad Feld, Foundry Group, Feld Thoughts (45,633)
  5. Mark Suster, GRP Partners, Both Sides of the Table (39,389)
  6. Bill Gurley, Benchmark Capital, Above The Crowd (23,084)
  7. Dave McClure, Founders Fund, Master of 500 Hats (21,462)
  8. Josh Kopelman, First Round Capital, Redeye VC (12,972)
  9. Bijan Sabet, Spark Capital, Bijan Sabet (12,451)
  10. Jeremy Liew, Lightspeed Ventures Partners, LSVP (12,097)
  11. Mark Peter Davis, DFJ Gotham Ventures, Venture Made Transparent (12,010)
  12. Larry Cheng, Volition Capital, Thinking About Thinking (11,851)

I kept 12 for obvious reasons. Check out the full list.

Larry, thanks for keeping tabs on all these metrics — it’s a great service to everyone looking to find knowledge in the VC and startup domains. The only problem with this methodology is that compete.com tracks only US traffic, while the blog listing is global in scope. Perhaps your next update in April 2010 can use Alexa rankings or some other novel solution.

ExtremeU Pitch Day


Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend ExtremeU Pitch Day, put on by Extreme Venture Partners (EVP). The attendance was filled with VCs, Angels, media and members of the EVP team to listen to pitches from the 3 graduates of their first class at Extreme University. Those graduates were Assetize, Uken Games and Locationary.

ExtremeU was a summer technology start-up program that focuses on industry networking, technology mentoring and delivering a product to potential investors after only 12 weeks. The intensive program was led by Farhan Thawar (Dean of ExtremeU), who is also the VP Engineering at Xtreme Labs.

Assetize

Assetize helps Twitter users monetize their content stream by displaying ads from Google AdSense and other ad networks into your Twitter stream. They are hoping to be the AdSense of blogs, but on Twitter. Assetize will share revenue with content publishers (content publishers receive 60%). The company has a content analysis and targeting algorithm as well as an ad-matching algorithm that helps advertisers reach targeted audiences. Since they began coding 3 months ago, Assetize already publishes 15,000 messages per day across all channels and has published approximately 56 million ads to-date. Some early competitors in this space include Sponsored Tweets, Ad.ly and Magpie.

Uken Games

Uken Games, founded by Chris Ye and Mark Lampert, creates social games. Their first game is called SuperHeroes Alliance and is based on the Facebook platform, they have also recently launched an iPhone version of the application (with data synced on the server-side so that you can play the same game across platforms). Since their launch in March 2009, they have amassed 130,000 total users and over 50,000 monthly active users (MAUs). Even in their early days, they have found that people will pay for virtual goods for a whole host of reasons, and that a couple of users even spent over $2,000 to compete against others in the system. So far, they have been working hard to build their “Adaptive Game Engine” and they plan to use this the churn out more game in more verticals (that will remain nameless due to confidentiality). Look out for some more interesting games from Uken.

Locationary

Locationary is an interesting and massive undertaking, taken-on by Grant Ritchie, to create “The World’s Place Database … Created by You.” Essentially, the company is trying to create the Wikipedia of the YellowPages by crowdsourcing the information and subsequent updates and generating incentive through game mechanics and point-scoring systems.  So far the company has cataloged over 100,000 places. Locationary has ambitious goals (I like to see that) of having 15 million placed indexed within the next 12 months and 100 million places indexed within 2 years. This is a very difficult space and I wish the company good luck in getting the public to be their puppeteer!

Top 100 Networked VCs


As a follow-up to a prior post, Global VC Blog Directory (blogs written/managed by over 100 VCs), I found an excellent on TechCrunch that discusses the Top-100 Networked VCs.

If you’re fundraising, or thinking of fundraising, I highly suggest that you take a look at these firms.

Here are the top 10:
1. Draper Fisher Jurvetson
2. Sequoia Capital
3. Accel Partners
4. Intel Capital
5. First Round Capital
6. Dag Ventures
7. New Enterprise Associates
8. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
9. Benchmark Capital
10. Ron Conway

(via TechCrunch; full article here.)

Global VC Blog Directory


Attention all entrepreneurs and start-ups!

A comprehensive list of VC-authored blogs have been compiled by Larry Cheng, a Boston-based VC. The list was ranked by number of Google Reader Subscribers as of May 2009.

If you’re getting serious about pitching for venture dollars, I suggest that you start subscribing to some of these blogs (just add them to your Viigo feeds).

It’s important for entrepreneurs to know about a number of things before pitching for dollars:
1. Understand the psychology of VCs
2. Understand the business models of VCs
3. Understand how to pitch VCs
4. Understand how NOT to pitch VCs
5. Understand WHEN to pitch VCs
6. Pitch VCs with a focus in your business sector
7. Don’t pitch VCs with your competitors already in their portfolios
8. Know your pitch cold
9. Spend a few extra minutes on the slide deck
10. Know the risks associated with your business (model) and suggest mitigating strategies
11. The list goes on…

Many of the blogs listed in the index will give you lots of tips in these areas. Happy reading!

Venture Capital and the Economy


Today I had some time to explore what the economic downturn means for venture capital investors. The result: no new IPOs and lower M&A exit numbers (source: NVCA reports).

  • No IPO activity for two consecutive quarters (first time on record)
  • 56 M&A exits in Q1 2009; 13 totaled $645MM – in that last 3 years that number has been closer to 100 M&A exits; average value of $49.6MM / exit
  • Due to the lackluster IPO market, corporate acquirers are being more selective and taking their time when considering acquisitions
  • IT sector led the venture-backed M&A market with 42 deals and total value of $348MM

The NVCA also stated that 40 venture firms raised $4.3B in Q1 2009. This happens to be the smallest number of venture funds raising money in a single quarter since Q3 2003.

How are venture firms adapting to the downturn?
VCs are saving funds to support existing portfolio companies that may be experiencing lower sales volumes, or cash flow issues due to problems with accounts receivable or inventory. In addition, VCs are taking more time to support portfolio companies from an operational perspective; it’s a good time to trim the fat, get lean, and bring in some very experienced talent that can now be found readily on the street.

In light of poor IPO and M&A markets, valuations have been pushed down significantly. Companies are once again being evaluated on revenues and other real metrics. There are still many over-inflated venture-backed companies out there and many VCs are waiting for valuations (or valuation expectations) to decrease before injecting cash. It is becoming more of a VCs market to demand their price.

One more thing — since many VCs have closed their doors to new investments, existing VCs can be more selective in the investments they would like to pursue. This increase in stringency will hopefully result in more winners being picked during these trying months.

Bob Mast, who is the Managing Director at Monument Group thinks “the world is divided into 3 groups: people with severe cash flow problems that have halted commitments, people who are over their target and are being very selective, and people who have money but are still nervous.”

Like many others out there, I am hoping for a turnaround and markets to reignite very soon. Until then, I’ll be keeping my head down and trying to pick winners.

Cleantech VCs ready for 2008


According to the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), VCs are going to continue to pour money into Cleantech areas beyond solar and biofuels. There will be consolidation, more venture-backed IPOs and an eventual over-valuation of the sector. See the NVCA Report.

Will the sector really become over-valued though? With global demand increasing everyday from the emerging market – notably the drastic increases seen in the middle classes of India and China – it is very hard to state exactly where an upper boundary exists. Growth these days is not limited to the US, but it is measured in a global framework that is only beginning to be defined by newer business trends and strategies.

Global warming and energy reserves continue to be an issue that becomes more evident everyday. Until realizable change is evident, the cleantech market will continue to grow and expand at obscene CAGRs. We are only at the dawn of a new era in renewable energy and cleantech; hang on for the ride.

Cleantech Spending


Amidst a flurry of chatter about cleantech and investment from VCs, there is some interesting results coming from a recent report from Lux Research. As the graph at right shows, there is about a 50/50 split between government and corporate funding of cleantech investment, with only a minor contribution from venture capitalists. At least we are seeing an increasing trend …

Below we see the cleantech investment by segment in total, and from VC funding. In the past three years we can see quite clearly that VCs have been investing in energy and sustainability which matches overall spending patterns.

What will 2007 bring? Leave your opinion …

Off to California!


It’s about time! Everyday I’m reading about the next big thing coming out of California, all the VC money in California, all the great networks in California, and the wakeboarding … well I’M COMING, TODAY!

I’m flying into San Francisco, where I will be attending the Web 2.0 Expo @ Moscone West on Sunday, and possibly some of Monday if I can’t resist going back. I mean seriously, take a look at this schedule; it looks sick, right? If you are going to be in the Bay Area and want to check out the Expo part only, you can get in for free by using the discount code “webex07wbr” which gives you $100 off the $100 expo pass price! If you’re going to be around the expo, fire an email to jsookman [(at)] sooknet.com and we can grab a coffee.

I’ll be flying south to Orange County, yes “The O.C.”, to go to the World Innovation Forum which I spoke about at length in my post trying to recruit others! In any case, hopefully I’ll learn a thing or two … if you’re interested but can’t make it, I’ll give you a summary when I get back to T.O.

Special Note: If you are reading this, and you (1) live in San Francisco, (2) own a wakeboard boat and wakeboard, and (3) are free on Saturday morning (April 14th) — fire me an email at the address above, because I can’t wait to get back on the water!!

Biofuels Outlook Update


Invest in biofuels today. At least, 2 people think you should — Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, and Dr. Jens Riese of McKinsey & Co. who gave keynote speeches at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing.

An article from TheAutoChannel discussed this in further detail, but I want to highlight some important points from the post:

In a speech titled “The Role of Venture Capital in Developing Cellulosic Ethanol,” Khosla outlined the range of technologies currently being commercialized to convert cellulosic biomass to transportation fuels. Khosla said that the U.S. Department of Energy’s recent grants to cooperatively fund biorefineries that produce ethanol from cellulose is an acknowledgment that the technology is moving faster than expected. He said that a 100 percent replacement of petroleum transportation fuels with biofuels is achievable, and predicted that ethanol from cellulose technology will be cost competitive with current ethanol production by 2009.

Dr. Jens Riese of McKinsey & Co. also addressed the World Congress plenary session with a speech titled “Beyond the Hype: Global Growth in the Biofuels Industry.” Riese predicted that global annual biofuel capacity would double to 25 billion gallons over the next five years and could reach 80 billion gallons – meeting 10 percent of world transportation fuel demand, enough to replace the annual oil production for fuel of Saudi Arabia – by 2020. According to McKinsey & Company’s model, biofuels can economically replace 25 percent of transportation fuel with crude oil above $50 per barrel. He concluded that the race is on to build a biofuels industry and that companies should invest now.

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