Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action!

We’re very happy to announce the public launch of the California Business Ascent video webcast series, showcasing the most exciting startups you’ve never heard of. For ten years we’ve introduced more than a thousand early stage ventures to our network of active investors at dozens of Golden Capital Venture Capital conferences throughout California and Nevada, and more than $1.6 Billion has been invested in our alumni.

Now we're taking it to the web, live and direct. We are planning an ambitious program of 50 entrepreneur showcase webcasts in 2009 from locations throughout California, culminating in a final competition in San Diego this November with 50 regional finalists vying for cash awards, investor traction, and the title of the Most Innovative Startup in California.

“We’ve been showing recorded elevator pitches on our Business Ascent social network, and some other sites have followed suit,” said Jim Mikles, Executive Producer of the webcast series, “but this is the first program that presents entrepreneurs pitching their companies in a real-time, competitive format to potentially hundreds of investors screening the deal flow online.”

Our first live program is this Thursday, April 2, starting at 4PM PDT, from the Monterey Bay Innovation Showcase in Watsonville, in the heart of the Monterey Bay region. A panel of six leading angel and venture investors will discuss “Raising Capital in Challenging Times”, followed by ten-minute presentations by seven sensational startups.

If you want a ringside seat to learn more about the next wave of entrepreneurs emerging from the nation’s most innovative state, join the webcast by visiting http://businessascent.com/go/webcast

Saturday, March 21, 2009


We've been watching some talks from the recent TED conference.  For those who may be unfamiliar with this program, it is an annual colloquium of the brightest and most imaginative thinkers, thought leaders, and overachievers from the worlds of Technology, Entertainment, and Design, discussing "Ideas worth spreading".

Juan Enriquez, Managing Director with Excel Medical Ventures and the CEO and Chairman of Biotechonomy, gave a fascinating presentation examining the economic meltdown, specifying strategies for recovery, and concluding with a look at some emerging innovations in life science technology presaging the emergence of "homo evolutis"; a humankind that takes an active role in its own evolution.

In the course of his talk, about seven minutes in, he made a remarkable observation about the impact of venture investment in the economy.  He said that investment in startups represented about .02% of GDP, whereas venture-backed companies produced 17% of GDP.  He mentioned it in passing as he transitioned from a laundry list of necessary cuts to public expenditure to areas where spending must be increased, but it certainly caught our attention.

Then we saw a similar observation in the Economist special report on entrepreneurship we discussed last week, and we tracked down the source.  As it happens, it comes from VentureImpact, a research paper commissioned by the National Venture Capital Association, and prepared by Global Insight with data provided by Content First.  The actual proportion of GDP invested in early stage companies in 2006 was .2%, and the output was 17.6%, which translates to a staggering 88x return on investment.

The study also documents
 that these companies
 produced more than
 10 million jobs, and over 2 trillion dollars in revenue that year, and the trend over the previous 6 years was consistently increasing.  Venture-backed firms also significantly outperformed the economy as a whole, producing more than three times the compound annual growth of jobs (3.6% vs. 1.4%) and nearly twice the growth in revenues (11.8% vs. 6.5%).

We've been on the lookout for solid evidence of our central thesis -- that the most effective strategy for economic development is innovation and entrepreneurship -- and this research certainly provides meaningful support for it.  The study was published in 2007, and analyzed more than 23,000 venture-backed companies.  An update to the study is in process, and is expected this June.  We look forward to it with eager anticipation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Required Reading

When I was in college, guys usually pretended they were in a band. Now they pretend they are in a start-up.

In the March 14th edition of The Economist, a special report on entrepreneurship offers a comprehensive analysis of our favorite subject.  Authored by Washington bureau chief Adrian Wooldridge, the report is a collection of nine articles examining virtually every facet of innovation-driven new enterprise.  Wooldridge cites our friends at the Kauffman Foundation in defining entrepreneurial companies as specifically innovative, as contrasted to replicative, businesses.

The leading article, Global Heroes, explodes the "five myths" about entrepreneurialism.  These include:
  • Entrepreneurs are "orphans and outcasts"; solitary, antisocial nerds making widgets in isolation
Entrepreneurs may be more independent than the usual suits who merely follow the rules, but they almost always need business partners and social networks to succeed.
  • Entrepreneurs are young.
The Kauffman Foundation examined 652 American-born bosses of technology companies set up in 1995-2005 and found that the average boss was 39 when he or she started. The number of founders over 50 was twice as large as that under 25.
  • Entrepreneurship is driven by venture capital
Monitor, a management consultancy that has recently conducted an extensive survey of entrepreneurs, emphasises the importance of “angel” investors, who operate somewhere in the middle ground between venture capitalists and family and friends. They usually have some personal connection with their chosen entrepreneur and are more likely than venture capitalists to invest in a business when it is little more than a budding idea.
  • Entrepreneurs must create world-changing new technology
Sir Ronald Cohen, the founder of Apax Partners, one of Europe’s most successful venture-capital companies, points out that some of the most successful entrepreneurs concentrate on processes rather than products. Richard Branson made flying less tedious by providing his customers with entertainment. Fred Smith built a billion-dollar business by improving the delivery of packages. Oprah Winfrey has become America’s richest self-made woman through successful brand management.
  • Entrepreneurship cannot occur in large companies
Many big companies work hard to keep their people on their entrepreneurial toes. Johnson & Johnson operates like a holding company that provides financial muscle and marketing skills to internal entrepreneurs. Jack Welch tried to transform General Electric from a Goliath into a collection of entrepreneurial Davids. Jorma Ollila transformed Nokia, a long-established Finnish firm, from a maker of rubber boots and cables into a mobile-phone giant; his successor as boss of the company, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, is now talking about turning it into an internet company.

Just as importantly, big firms often provide start-ups with their bread and butter. In many industries, especially pharmaceuticals and telecoms, the giants contract out innovation to smaller companies. Procter & Gamble tries to get half of its innovations from outside its own labs. Microsoft works closely with a network of 750,000 small companies around the world. Some 3,500 companies have grown up in Nokia’s shadow.
As we've pointed out before, an economic downturn is a good time to start businesses.  Wooldridge notes that it is also an opportune time for growing entrepreneurial businesses.  Citing a study from Endeavor, entrepreneurs surveyed forecast that "their businesses would grow by 31% and their workforces by 12% this year. Half of them thought they would be able to hire better people and 39% said there would be less competition."

In addition to this overview, additional articles in the report include:
  • Managing entrepreneurship
  • Time for entrepreneurship
  • The United States of Entrepreneurs
  • Entrepreneurs in India and China
  • Lands of opportunity
  • The formula for entrepreneurship
  • Entrepreneurs doing good
  • The entrepreneurial society
Anyone professing an interest in innovation and entrepreneurship will be significantly better informed after reading this authoritative analysis.