From out of the ashes

Reposted from my StartupNorth post:

Photo by Timm Suess
Photo by Timm Suess

Is there any questions that the Canadian venture captial industry is in turmoil? There is a change that is happening, it might just not be happeing as fast as it could. Mark McQueen talks about the the creative destruction of the VC industry in Canada.

“There’s no robust “new class” of VC firms coming in behind the current oligarchy, with a similar amount of capital to deploy as those they are planning to replace. We are witnessing the destruction piece of the equation, for sure, but not the rebirth that is the essence of “creative destruction” if it is to succeed.” – Mark McQueen, Wellington Fund

While there are a few new players entering the market (I’m looking at you ExtremeVP and Mantella VP), we’re seeing a lot of roadkill. There are firms that are not able to raise their next fund, partners that are on life support, startups that are left to wonder what happen to their partners in raising additional capital. However, many that remain are digging in and fighting for their way of life. They are lobbying for support to “manufacture an environment that is hospitable to their investment style”. Adam Adamou at Caseridge Capital Corporation argues that the existing venture players, the Canadian VC oligarchy, has successfully lobbied for restrictions that have kept out new players including the public/private venture capital that was used to fund RIM.

“The traditional venture capitalists see themelves as the founders of a “Silicon Valley North” and they follow the US trends, which unfortunately do not apply to our Canadian market. They seem to see themselves as avant garde investors in tomorrow’s technology companies, however, they behave more like bankerss[sic] – preferring security and downside protection over opportunity”

Yikes, that’s a damning review of the Canadian venture industry. However, I’m not sure that the suggested alternatives including Capital Pool Companies and the TSX-V are really better choices for Canadian entrepreneurs (or investors). (I’m not an expert on CPCs or TSX-V but when my friends and trusted advisors like Mark McLeod provide commentary, I listen). What I took away from The Adamou Rant is that many of the funds have a vested interest in the maintaining something akin to the current system. Governments should look critically at the numbers being presented and who is presenting them.

The State of a Nation

Is the sky falling? What is the state of venture capital in Canada? Is it really this bad? And why does it matter to early-stage entrepreneurs? Should we all just move to Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston or somewhere else?

The Canadian VC environment has been challenging for a lot of entrepreneurs. As entrepreneurs, you need to understand the environment that you will start, fund, and grow your company. Canada has a strong track record of access to capital, a stable economic policy and should be a great spot for entrepreneurs. It’s also unique. Canadian companies tend to be at a later stage of corporate development and raise less money than their US counterparts. I’ve written about the impact of the state of the funding environment has on startups. And what entrepreneurs can contintue to expect to see, includes:

  • The number of investors will continue to decrease
  • Valuations will continue to decrease
  • Customer uptake will be slower
  • Need to become cash flow positive
  • Acquiring entities will favour profitable companies

Mark McQueen provides the best summary of state of the Canadian Venture Capital landscape I’ve seen in a while:

  • VC investments in Canadian firms hit a 14 year low in 2009
  • US venture market saw US$18 billion invested in 2009, Canada saw only $1 billion (5.5%) our economy is approximately 12.5% the size of the US economy
  • Up to half of current Canadian VC funds will not be able to raise their next fund
  • Ontario government has sunset the $1 billion Retail Venture Capital Industry
  • “Section 116″ was fixed in the 2010 Federal Budget, however, this is not a silver bullet
  • 117 disclosed cross board investments since January 2008 (this includes Canadian investments in US companies)
  • Canadian Fund of Funds have lots of capital to invest in foreign led funds: EDC ($1.2 billion); Teralys ($700 million); OVCF ($205 million)

A New Hope

We need to hope that from out of the ashes will emerge a better funding environment for Canadian entrepreneurs. Whether this is led by new funds, angel investors, US funds, or the existing players learning from their mistakes, it doesn’t matter.

We’re starting to see a strong set of the big players making acquisitions across Canada:

Our startups need real capital to continue to compete on the world stage. But They can’t survive on SR&ED credits alone. We need to hope that this creative destruction happens quickly, so that something can rise from the ashes and we can witness the rebirth of the Canadian tech startup.

Compared to others

Reposting my StartupNorth post.

“With the proper level of ambition, talent, and opportunity, even a small, islolated company can turn the world into its market” – Michael Cusumano, Dealing with the Venture Capital Crisis

I’m reading Michael Cusumano’s Dealing with the Venture Capital Crisis in the October 2009 issue of Communications of the ACM, I’m struck by the idea that our geographical proximity to the US, advanced economy, good universities and strong intellectual property rights might be the spawning ground for new ventures, sources of wealth, social welfare and employment. The article proposed 4 markets that meet these requirements including:

  • Israel
    Estimated 2009 Population: 7.4 million
    2008 Venture: 483 investments totaling US$2.08B, $780M from local VCs (Cdn$2.54B/Cdn$904.84M)  (IVA
    Investment-to-GDP: 0.0125/0.0045
  • Finland
    Estimated 2009 Population: 5.3 million
    2008 Venture: 406 investments totaling 360M euros (Cdn$620.55M) (FVCA)
    Investment-to-GDP: 0.0032
  • Ireland
    Estimated 2009 Population: 4.9 million
    2008 Venture: 160 investments totaling 243M euros (Cdn$418.87M) (IVCA)
    Investment-to-GDP: 0.0022
  • New Zealand
    Estimated 2009 Population: 4.3 million
    2008 Venture: 52 investments totaling NZ$66.1M (Cdn$46.81M) (NZVCA)
    Investment-to-GDP: 0.0004

Well these are great numbers, how does this compare to Canada?

  • Canada
    Estimated 2009 Population: 33.8 million
    2008 Venture: 371 investments totaling Cdn$1.3B (CVCA)
    Investment-to-GDP: 0.001

When compared to the US and Israel, Canada looks like a poor third cousin. What is the appropriate measure here? Investment as a percentage of GDP? Well we fall somewhere between New Zealand and Ireland. Maybe things aren’t as bad as we’d like to think. We have more venture money than New Zealand. We’re closer to a larger market. Maybe we should start to look at the positive factors and exploit the constraints to build opportunities.

  • Advanced economies
  • Sophisticated customers
  • Good universities
  • Strong intellectual property rights
  • Favorable tax laws
  • Vibrant entrepreneurial cultures

What’s an entrepreneur to do?

In my opinion, there are only 2 items on the above list that are directly impacted and influenced by entrepreneurs: Sophisticated customers; and Vibrant entrepreneurial cultures. Sure, the net result of a more positive entrepreneurial environment is a advanced economy that produces good universities. We can lobby politicians for strong intellectual property rights (and consumer freedoms) and favorable tax laws. But there are advocacy groups like the National Angel Capital Organization and the Canadian Venture Capital Association that more directly benefit and are better funded to act on the behalf of entrepreneurial financing. This is not some that necessarily deserve any additional attention than you currently dedicate to the political process. I’m arguing the entrepreneurs should build companies and leave this to the pundits, advocates, policy wonks and politicians.

Sophisticated customers

For entrepreneurs,we need to work on helping develop sophisticated customers. Often these customers are located near where the entrepreneur is building their product or service offering. However, this is not a requirement. Entrepreneur should look for sophisticated customers around the globe. Including customers in your product design and development process is key to creating products that meet customer needs and to develop more sophisticated customers. Steve Blank and Eric Reis have proposed the Customer Development Manifesto and Lean Startup as ways for founders to engage customers in the earliest work. All startups should read these posts.

Vibrant entrepreneurial cultures

Isn’t this what we’re trying to do? Read our thoughts on:

Part of the reason that we are luck enough to have Dave McClure in Toronto (and he had a great time). First Round Capital had office hours with Chris Fralic and Phin Barnes. We continue to see folks from Atlas Ventures, General Catalyst, and Microsoft (Don Dodge presented at StartupEmpire and will be presenting at CIX). This is a result of your participation. Canadian cities have a lot of buzz and attention based on the things that are going on.

It’s cumulative!

It is the force of a thousands of butterflies flapping their wings. All of the blogging, twittering, attending conferences, showing up to events, participating online. It’s about the DemoCamps, Launch Parties, StartupDrinks, Social Media Breakfasts, Third Tuesdays, Founders & Funders, NEWTECH, SproutUps, Meshes, and everything else.  It is a cumulative effect. It doesn’t take a lot of extra effort, but it adds up to the rest of the world paying attention to the noise.

We have great spokespersons like Saul Colt, Mathew Ingram, Mike Lee, Michael McDerment, Leila Boujnane, Brian Sharwood, Sarah Prevette, Pema Hagen, Bryan Watson, Anand Agarawala and others running around the world telling their stories of being a startup and the reasons they are doing it in Toronto. In Vancouver there’s Robert Scales, Kris Krug, Boris Mann, BootupLabs, Boris Wertz, Andre Charland, amd others. In Montreal it’s Austin Hill, Heri Rakotomalala, John Stokes, George Favvas, Ben Yoskovitz, Fred Ngo, Pinny Gniwisch, Ray Luk and others. Let’s not forget Social Media Breakfast, StartupOttawa, Scott Lake, Allan Isfan, Jacqui Murphy, and everyone that I’ve missed (it’s on purpose, because I don’t like you any more and I hate your startups).

But it is up to us to make noise. It’s up to us to build successful companies. It’s up to us to make Canada a better place for startups. No one is going to walk in and make it easier. We all have to participate and build a vibrant entrepreneurial culture. We need to talk about entrepreneurship as a career path. We need to talk to politicians about policy decisions.

So the first rule of being an entrepreneur is to reach out. Invite a friend. Make a connection. Tell a customer. Most of all, do the things that make the ecosystem better for you.