SMU Central
SMU Central

Things are looking pretty good for the venture capital industry. Potential VC investors have a lot of money available, and industry and geographical trends show a positive outlook for VC investing in the near term. There are numerous factors that could negatively affect the outlook for VC investments, but it certainly appears that substantial VC investment activity could occur over the next twelve months.

The most significant positive factor for VC activity in the near term is the supply of available cash. According to a recent report, VC funds currently have approximately $120 billion available for investment. Even though this is a composite number that is applied across the whole VC industry, it is a huge amount of available investment funds.

Another positive factor is the increase in corporate VC investment. In a relatively short time (aided by large amounts of cash on corporate balance sheets), corporate investors have begun to play a key role in the VC industry, especially in larger deals. Last year corporate VC deals comprised 25% of total VC deals, and this percentage will continue to increase. See my prior blog post on the rise of corporate VC investors (Corporate Venture Capital Investments – Good for Startups?).Continue Reading It’s a good time to be a VC fund

Corporate Venture Capital
Photo by Saulo Cruz

Corporate venture capital has quickly developed into a major funding source for startup companies. This type of startup funding is available to some innovative startups and early stage companies, and the dollars involved are significant. This all sounds great, but is this type of funding right for your startup?

According to the National Venture Capital Association and PWC’s Money Tree survey, 905 corporate venture capital deals were closed during 2015 with $7.5 billion invested (primarily in high growth startup companies). These transactions comprised 21% of the total number of venture capital deals closed in 2015 and represented 13% of the total venture capital funds invested in that year. Not surprisingly, the biggest chunk of these investments went to software companies ($2.5 billion in 389 deals, which represented 33% of all corporate venture deals in 2015), while biotech deals were second ($1.2 billion in 133 deals, which represented 16% of all corporate venture deals that year).

Many large and familiar companies have implemented venture capital programs. Some of the most well-known corporate venture funds are Alphabet’s GV (formerly Google Ventures), Microsoft Ventures, and Salesforce Ventures. Most of these corporate venture funds are sponsored by large technology companies, but Airbus Group Ventures is an example of a fund established by a non-technology company in a specific industry space. While each of these programs has some independent characteristics, the commonalities are a strong desire to foster innovation (either generally or in specific industry segments) and an ability to step out of the normal corporate mold and commit funds to situations with higher risk profiles when compared to normal corporate investments like real estate and straightforward corporate industry acquisitions.

There are a number of significant potential advantages associated with corporate venture capital. For me, two of the biggest potential advantages are the broader investment scope and the more long-range expectations which may result in a corporate venture investment as compared to a normal external venture investment. A corporate venture capital investor can
Continue Reading Corporate venture capital investments – Good for startups?

SAFE and KISSEarly stage and startup companies often face difficulty in obtaining initial financing.  These companies normally do not have access to traditional venture capital, angel, or bank financing.  Even when a startup finds an investor, the company may not have the time or the funds to pursue the long and complicated negotiation and documentation process required for a convertible debt or preferred stock investment.

Y Combinator (a Silicon Valley technology accelerator) developed a possible solution for this situation:  the SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity). This is a short document that contains the basic terms of an investment in an early stage company. Y Combinator’s goal was to create a standard set of terms and conditions that the investor and the startup can agree upon without protracted negotiations so that the startup can obtain its initial funding relatively quickly and cheaply. Y Combinator offers both a summary of SAFE concepts and sample SAFE documents on its site.  Y Combinator first proposed this instrument in December 2013, but it is just now beginning to be used outside of Silicon Valley.

While the SAFE has appeared in a number of forms, the basic concept is that the investor provides funding to the company in exchange for the right to receive equity upon some future event.  The standard SAFE contains no term or repayment date, and no interest accrues.  The investor gets the right to receive the company’s equity when a future event occurs (normally a future equity financing). There is no need to spend time or money negotiating the company’s valuation, the terms of the conversion to equity or any similar items (which can often be tough and protracted negotiation items) – all of those decisions can be deferred into the future. The investor will receive shares in the subsequent offering, often at a discount to the price that other investors pay in that offering. The parties can also negotiate a cap on the valuation used in connection with the SAFE, and this may provide additional protection to the investor.

The beauty of the SAFE concept (from the company’s standpoint) is that it
Continue Reading SAFEs and KISSes – Alternative investment vehicles can help early stage companies get financed

Foreign Account Tax Compliance ActThe Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) is a US law designed to counter offshore tax avoidance by US persons. Controversial because of its wide-ranging breadth and application to non-US financial institutions, in the most general sense, FATCA imposes a 30% withholding tax on payments of US source income made to foreign financial institutions (“FFIs”) unless they enter into an agreement with the US Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and disclose information about their US account holders.

After having revised the timelines for FATCA’s implementation on several occasions (culminating in an implementation delay of over three years from the date of its adoption in March of 2010), FATCA’s official July 1, 2014 implementation date is on the horizon. As a result, FFIs worldwide have made a mad dash in the race toward FATCA compliance over the last few months.

So why does this matter to non-banking/non-financial institutions? Well, as an initial matter, FATCA’s definition of an FFI is broad, including more types of entities than one might expect. As a result, US entities must make sure they have evaluated their corporate structure to determine whether its network includes an FFI. Under FATCA rules, the following types of entities may qualify as FFIs, subject to certain exceptions:

  • Non-US retirement funds and foundations
  • Special purpose entities and banking-type subsidiaries
  • Captive insurance companies
  • Treasury centers, holding companies, and captive finance companies

Additionally, even if an organization’s affiliate network does not include an FFI, US-based entities could be
Continue Reading FATCA: What it is, and why it may apply to your business

Dual track acquistion structureWhen the private equity firm 3G Capital took Burger King private in 2010, it used an innovative “dual-track” acquisition structure to minimize the amount of time to consummate the acquisition. This involved 3G simultaneously pursuing both a friendly tender offer to Burger King shareholders as well as a traditional merger that would need to be approved by shareholders at a special meeting. Since the Burger King deal, nearly 20 other companies have used this structure. 

In basic terms, a tender offer allows the acquirer to make a direct offer to shareholders to purchase shares of the target company at a specified price. Consummation of the tender offer is usually contingent upon the target shareholders tendering a minimum number of shares so that the acquirer can take advantage of a subsequent short-form merger to squeeze out any non-tendering shareholders thereby resulting in the acquirer being the 100% shareholder of the target company. On the other hand, a traditional merger involves the solicitation of shareholder votes to approve the acquisition by proxy or in person at a special shareholder meeting. 

From a timing perspective, acquirers typically prefer to use tender offers to accomplish acquisitions because it normal takes less time to complete because, among other things, it does not require a special meeting of the shareholders to approve the transaction. Where a traditional merger can take upwards of three to six months to complete (depending on the circumstances), a tender offer can be completed in as few as 20 business days following the date the tender offer is initiated (the minimum period that a tender offer must remain open). However, if shareholders of a target company do not tender the minimum number of shares necessary to consummate the acquisition, the acquirer would be forced to abandon the tender offer and switch over to a traditional merger structure. 

In the Burger King deal, rather than waiting to see whether the tender offer was successful, 3G simultaneously prepared documents and made filings to proceed with a traditional merger concurrently with the tender offer. By doing this, 3G would have a head start on the traditional merger transaction if the tender offer ultimately failed, thereby saving significant time. However, public companies considering this type of approach should be aware that the timing of certain key events when undertaking a dual-track approach could result in an inadvertent violation of the Exchange Act rules. 

Specifically, Rule 14e-5 issued under the Exchange Act prohibits an acquirer from
Continue Reading Acquirers beware! New expedited acquisition method could violate the Exchange Act

We have recently experienced some of the worst financial and economic conditions that we (hopefully) will see in our lifetimes. Most of us have been touched personally by these conditions. It appears that economic and financial conditions will continue to get better, but these situations have created some ongoing challenges that will continue to face early stage companies and entrepreneurs even under better conditions. 

The apparent changes in the traditional roles of the venture capital, private equity and angel investing models are some of the changes that will impact early stage companies. This appears to be the “new normal” for the financing of early stage companies.  Financing from venture capital and angel investor sources has historically been a vital source of funding for early stage companies.  Most early stage companies are not able to qualify for bank financing and are too early for private equity financing. Venture capital and angel investor financing traditionally stepped into this gap and gave these companies the critical financing that they needed to survive and expand. Private equity firms tended to remain out of the early stage financing arena until a company had reached a certain level of revenues or profitability.

This traditional financing model has changed.  Many private equity firms have shifted their investment focus to an even more mature class of companies. There has been a concurrent shift in focus by venture capital firms as many of them have also shifted their investment focus to more mature companies and are subjecting target companies to stricter investment criteria.

These shifts in investment focus are understandable, but they have significantly reduced the availability of crucial funding sources for early stage companies. These shifts happened at a very tough time for most small companies as they tried to recover from bad economic conditions.  This reduction in financing opportunities coupled with the overall slow pace of the economic recovery has caused a dire situation for many early stage companies and entrepreneurs.  Fortunately several events have occurred that should help to fill this financing gap.
Continue Reading Financing Early Stage Companies–Dealing With the “New Normal”