My previous post in the corporate venture capital (CVC) series provided a broad historical perspective on the sector. In this post I review important lessons learned by CVCs that have been operating for many years and several economic cycles and best practices being used by newer CVCs. The lessons in this post would be of value to CVCs looking for best practices and corporate leaders whose companies have already established venture organizations or are considering doing so as part of enabling innovation.
In the previous post I introduced a five-dimensional framework to employ while setting up a corporate venture group and discussed in detail two of its dimensions: strategy and people. The corporation must establish a long-term strategy for its venture group. As part of this strategy it must create a set of objectives, formulate an investment thesis, decide on the stage of the target investments, the life of each fund, and the amount per investment. Recognizing that venture investing is a peoples business, the CVC must pay particular attention in hiring well. A CVC group may have up to six different teams depending on the scope of its activities and overall strategy. Next I will present the three additional dimensions: the incentives to offer to the members of the corporate venture group, generating the right deal flow to achieve the group’s strategy and satisfy its investment theses, and guidelines for the CVC group’s governance.
In the first part of the series on corporate venture capital I explored how the disruption of institutional VCs (IVCs) and the imperative for corporations to innovate provide an opportunity to corporate VCs (CVCs) to make their mark in the startup ecosystem and be viewed as viable and valuable financing sources to private companies. In the second part I provided more context on CVCs by presenting a brief history of corporate venture capital, and detailing the characteristics of CVCs during the dot-com period and today. In this blog I discuss when corporations should be establishing venture funds, I introduce a framework for creating venture funds and discuss two of the dimensions in this framework.
I started writing these posts with the hypothesis that in their effort to innovate, corporations must re-invent the traditional R&D model with one that augments the R&D efforts with venture investments, acquisitions, strategic partnerships and startup incubation. Corporate VCs (CVCs) are expected to play a big role in this innovation quest. It is assumed that a CVC can move faster, more flexibly, and more cheaply than traditional R&D to help a corporation respond to changes in technologies and business models. With that in mind corporations are establishing such groups in record numbers, including corporations from industries that have not traditionally worked with venture capital. Corporations have been providing their venture organizations with significant size funds to manage, and expect them to invest in companies of various stages and geographies. Today’s CVC prominence can result in many advantages for entrepreneurs and co-investment partners but also carries risks, many of which are due to the way CVCs are set up and operate within the broader corporate structure. In the last blog I examined how the disruption of institutional VCs (IVCs) can impact corporate VCs. In this blog I start taking an in-depth look of corporate VCs. I will examine the different types of corporate VCs, compare the characteristics of today’s corporate venture groups to the characteristics such groups had in the late ‘90s, and describe the areas where CVCs must focus on in order to succeed. In the next blog I will provide some ideas on how to best set up a CVC organization based on my work with such organizations to date.
A large corporation recently requested my advice on how to set up and structure their venture fund, which they wanted to base in Silicon Valley. This corporation had initially set up a venture fund in the late ‘90s to invest in Internet startups. By 2002 they closed down the fund after determining that its portfolio companies had lost their financial value and had created little intellectual property of interest. But the startup activity of the last four years and the disruptions startups are causing in the company’s industry is leading it to re-establish its fund. This example, and many other similar ones, demonstrates a recurring theme of the past three years: corporations from a variety of industries are establishing, or re-establishing, venture funds in Silicon Valley, and other innovation clusters, and are aggressively participating in startup financing rounds. According to Global Corporate Venturing today 1100 corporations have active venture funds. The number of funds has doubled since 2009 and 475 of which have been established since 2010. VentureSource reported that corporate venture capital firms (CVCs) invested $5 billion during 1H14, a jump of about 45% from a year earlier and the highest level since the dot-com era. The emergence of corporate venture capital as a major source of startup funding has been the result of two factors, the first accidental and the second intentional. First, because institutional venture capital is being disrupted, corporate venture capital is able to fill some of the void that is created and emerge as an important startup-financing source. Second, as was previously discussed, corporations intend to access externally developed disruptive innovations by participating in the financing of startups. This blog examines what CVCs need to understand about the institutional venture capital disruption in order to best capitalize on the opportunities it will create. In the next blog I will explore how to best set up a CVC organization so that it can provide the corporation with impactful, over the horizon visibility to technologies, business models and startups that can help it achieve its innovation goals while becoming a trusted and value-added partner to entrepreneurs.