Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), shares his thoughts on why corporate venture activity is good for the overall health and vitality of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This post originally appeared in the Venture Capital Journal.
The modern day venture capital industry has come a long way since the early 1960s when venture legends Bill Draper and Pitch Johnson founded Draper & Johnson Investment Company. No longer are we a cottage industry tinkering around the edges of our economy. Although we remain small in size compared to the broader private equity industry, we play an outsized role in the U.S. economy through company generation, job creation and overall economic growth.
As our industry has grown and matured over the last 50-plus years, so, too, have the markers that define where venture capital starts and where it ends. From the recent rise of crowdfunding platforms and angel investors to growth equity and direct investments from institutional investors, many new and different players have emerged as active and engaged participants in the venture capital ecosystem.
One critical element of it all is corporate venture capital, a mature and growing segment of the venture capital ecosystem and a strong and growing segment of the NVCA membership. From Verizon to Walgreens, we are proud to have some of the most marquee brands from corporate America in our stable of corporate venture members and honored to count corporate venture rock stars Sue Siegel of GE Ventures and Claudia Fan Munce of IBM Venture Capital Groups as members of the NVCA Board.
Beyond their representation in the NVCA, corporate venture groups are flexing their muscle as active contributors to the maturation of innovative, high-growth startups across all sectors of our economy. Already through the first half of the year, corporate venture groups have deployed almost $4 billion to the startup ecosystem through their participation in 431 deals, accounting for 12.5 percent of all venture capital dollars deployed and participating in almost 20 percent of all venture capital deals. To put that in perspective, if this pace continues, 2015 could be the busiest year for corporate venture activity since 2001.
Although growing in unison as a key ingredient to the success of the innovation economy, not all corporate venture groups are created equal and not all of them engage in the startup ecosystem for the same reasons. For example, some corporations invest straight off their balance sheets while others raise a dedicated fund earmarked for venture investment. For some, corporate venture investing is a way to augment or even replace internal research and development. For others, it’s a way to keep their finger on the pulse of innovation so that they aren’t left behind if and when a startup disrupts their industry.
Whatever their motivation, increased corporate venture activity is good for the overall health and vitality of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Not only do young startups benefit from the additional pipeline of capital to tap into, but they also stand to benefit from all the other intangible benefits corporate venture groups bring to the table through their menu of services and offerings. Because they are established and mature companies, they have a lot of internal assets at their fingertips they can deploy to their startup investments, ranging from marketing and public relations to recruitment and executive development. And because corporations most often have a global footprint, they have the ability to open up whole new markets to the startups they invest in.
When an entrepreneur engages with a corporate venture group what they find is that it’s a lot like working with a traditional venture capitalist. Corporate venture investors want to do more than just take a seat on the board and check in on their investment once a quarter. They want to roll up their sleeves and help build a business.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what label you use to describe yourself, what matters is that you are helping to nurture and grow the next icon of American business from the ground up. Just ask Bill Draper and Pitch Johnson.