Venture Capital in the US and India: Synergistic Investing—Fireside Chat with Venture Capitalist Sid Mookerji
The Venture Capital (VC) industry has had a Bull Run for a decade, and it hit a banner year in 2021. However, as we wind down 2022, the VC landscape is witnessing a downturn. Many believe that the great VC pullback of 2022 is real. Headlines such as “Venture Capital Deals Set for Worst Drop in Over Two Decades” add to the gloom, though they may not exactly spell doom. In addition to “Crypto Winter,” rising interest rates, macroeconomic uncertainties, and a public market downturn have all been responsible for this negative sentiment in the US. The slump is global. For example, per the EC report titled “India Pulse 2022,” India saw a drop of about 73 percent in VC funding in the third quarter of 2022 compared to October-December 2021. The United States, on the other hand, saw a 61 percent decline in funding, while China witnessed a 52 percent fall. Nevertheless, the markets seem buoyant. Having seen the dot-com bust of 2000, the global financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent bouncing back, the VC landscape is expected to be out of winter and see its summer soon (maybe with some course correction).
Listen to Sid Mookerji, Founder and Managing Partner of Silicon Road Ventures, Atlanta, USA, in this episode of InfoFire. A successful entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, Mookerji shares his perspectives on “Venture Capital in the US and India: Synergistic Investing.” Here we chat about a range of issues: Sid’s journey from an entrepreneur to a venture capitalist; the nexus between businesses, VCs, government, and academia; why and how technology and innovation fuel the VC landscape; the India story; and what constitutes a healthy ecosystem for VC, amongst others.
Venture Capital: Creating New Wealth and Driving Economic Growth
Venture capital is a household word, especially in the 21st-century economy. Technology is the driving force of the 21st-century global economy. Research and Development and Technological innovation is a high-risk venture demanding high investment. Access to capital has witnessed the rise of new business moguls—moving away from titans of industry such as railroad and steel barons. Today’s business moguls tend to be successful entrepreneurs and tech CEOs. Successful entrepreneurs evolve to be venture capitalists fueling and backing the entrepreneurial appetite of a new generation of business ventures. The rise and spread of the VC industry have been both a cause and consequence of the shift in the concentration of economic control and power beyond the traditional wealthy families. As Wooldridge (2022) notes, venture capital is by far the most interesting form of capital and, along with tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists are the most interesting sort of capitalists who propelled Silicon Valley to the heart of the world economy and currently driving the rise of artificial intelligence and other smart technologies.
The intervention offered by VCs as intermediaries to small firms with high growth potential often helps offset the uncertainty and information asymmetry between investors and entrepreneurs (Gompers & Lerner, 2001; Berger & Udell, 1998). Studies have empirically evidenced the crucial importance of VC for high-tech startup growth (Engel, 2002; Davila et al., 2003). Furthermore, the aggregate role of VC in the economy and the extent to which VC contributes to economic growth, primarily through innovation and absorptive capacity, has also been quantitatively studied (Romain & Van Pottelsberghe, 2004). VCs play a crucial role in the commercialization of new technologies as they improve the output elasticity of R & D. An increased VC intensity makes it easier to absorb the knowledge generated by universities. Google is one of the great exemplars of this phenomenon.
VC industry originated in the US and remained an American phenomenon until recently. Over the past decades, VC has become dominant in financing innovative American companies. Companies supported by venture capital have profoundly changed the US economy, from Google to Intel to FedEx. Public companies in the US backed by VCs employ four million people, accounting for one-fifth of the market capitalization and 44% of the research and development spending. From research and development to employment to simple revenue, the companies funded by venture capital are a major part of the US economy (Strebulaev & Gornall, 2015). As a rising number of investors and policymakers recognize VC’s outsized impact on the economy, jobs, and living standards, it is expected to usher in a New Golden Age (Rist, 2021)
Today, VCs are considered an important asset class with an impressive history. For example, between 1980 and 2020, almost 40% of all IPOs were venture-backed. Moreover, in 2021, eight of the biggest ten firms in the world by market capitalization were built with the help of VC firms; Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, Meta, Tesla, Tencent, and Alibaba. While in 2022, Meta and Alibaba have plummeted to 26 and 35, respectively, the other six are still in the top 12.
The book The Money of Invention: How Venture Capital Creates New Wealth, by Paul Gompers and Josh Lerner (2001), explores how venture capital works and how the industry is evolving and shows companies how to leverage the venture capital model while avoiding the perils. Sebastian Mallaby, in his new book, The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Art of Disruption, explores the VC industry, its history, and its vitality and offers an in-depth analysis of its successes and failures. According to Mallaby, who has chronicled the rise of the finance-focused version of capitalism, venture capital owes its success to two principles: the power of networks and the logic of the Pareto principle (80/20 rule).
—Despite its slow and sluggish start, the Indian startup ecosystem appears to be on steroids for around a decade—
Business Ventures, Entrepreneurship, and Economic evolution
While the modern concept of venture capital is relatively recent, to be precise, in 1946, when the first modern VC firm, the American Research & Development Corporation (ARDC), was established, some legal historians trace it as far back as the merchants of Genoese in the 15th century. Celebrated economist and prophet of innovation, Joseph Schumpeter considers Columbus’s voyages (and others too) as business ventures and a business situation and the discovery of new territories akin to inventions. According to Schumpeter (1939), the formation of companies to exploit new opportunities, the setting of new countries, and the exports into and imports from them are part of the economic process and the economic evolution and evolution of capitalism.
Joseph Schumpeter, one of the 20th century’s most remarkable intellectuals, is best known for his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy and the theory of capitalist economies and the notion of creative destruction. He is also credited with having not only introduced the concept of entrepreneurship but analyzed the economic role of entrepreneurship in capitalism. According to Schumpeter, capitalism is an ongoing revolution that disrupts the current social and economic hierarchy. Within the system, the entrepreneur is the revolutionary, upsetting the extant order to create a dynamic change. He came up with the German word Unternéhmergeist, meaning entrepreneur-spirit, for those individuals responsible for delivering innovation and technological change and consequently controlling the economy.
Schumpeter’s monumental contribution, Business cycles: A theoretical, historical and statistical analysis of the capitalist process, first published in 1939, was foreshadowed by the contrasting theories of his contemporary John Maynard Keynes, but it now has become the cornerstone for modern thinking on entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic evolution. Moreover, given the creative destruction caused by the Internet, his thesis—entrepreneurship as the guiding force behind creative destruction advancing new products, technology, and/or production methods catalyzing change has gained momentum. Schumpeter’s Unternéhmergeist has become the zeitgeist today.
Venture Capital: History and Evolution
Moving beyond the “Friends, Family, and Fools” and the “Wealthy Angels” model, institutional private investments in companies are a 20th-century phenomenon spurred by the post-war surge in technological progress. Georges F Doriot, an academic often referred to as the “father of venture capital,” formed the first public venture capital firm ARDC with MIT President Karl Compton and others in 1946. ARDC had great success bringing together industry and science. Doriot, Harvard Business School professor and founder of INSEAD, was among the first to see venture capital as an industry.
Doriot’s influence and legacy continue to permeate the VC landscape. Many of his former employees and students went on to found VC firms, including Greylock, CRV, Mayfield, and Venrock. Arthur Rock is linked with several milestones in the VC and technology sector. For example, Davis & Rock provided early funding to Intel and Apple. Doriot is also credited with laying the foundations of principles and protocols for the VC industry.
1946 also saw the birth of the formation of two VC firms, J.H. Whitney (still in existence today) and Rockefeller Brothers, Inc. (now Venrock), by two well-known wealthy families—the Whitney family and the Rockefeller family.
Structure of VCs and their evolution
The VC industry has existed for over 70 years and has seen several stages of innovation. Along with the waxing and waning of some and sometimes a renaissance of the earlier ones in the last 20 years.
The first true venture capital firm ARDC was structured as a publicly traded closed-end fund. The US Securities and Exchange Commission regulations did not preclude any class of investors from holding the shares. However, institutional investors showed little interest in these shares, given the risks of an unproven investment style (Liles, 1977). The few other venture organizations begun in the decade were also structured as closed-end funds.
Significant drawbacks of the publicly traded structure were soon realized, leading to the evolution of the Limited Partnership structure of VCs. Draper, Gaither, and Anderson, formed in 1958, was the first venture capital limited partnership company. Unlike closed-end funds, partnerships were exempt from securities regulations, including the Investment Company Act of 1940. Though there were restrictions on the set of investors from which the funds could raise capital, the interests in a given partnership could only be held by a limited number of institutions and high-net-worth individual investors.
This structure became the template for many imitators of Draper, Gaither, and Anderson, such as those formed to develop real estate projects and explore oil fields. In addition, the partnerships had predetermined, finite lifetimes. So unlike closed-end funds, which often had indefinite lives, the partnerships were required to return the assets to investors within a set period. Limited partnerships became more common In the 1960s and 1970s, but they still accounted for a minority of the venture pool. While venture funds are usually formed as limited partnerships, venture capital firms are commonly organized as limited liability companies (LLCs). While the limited partnership form continues to dominate the venture capital industry, there has been a revival of the publicly traded venture fund in the 1990s due to several factors, including the inaccessibility of traditional venture funds to individual investors. In addition, several public policies, including tax benefits, shaped the evolution of VCs and their structures.
The VC space has been experimenting with some innovations. While passive VCs ruled the ecosystem, new models emerged as the competition intensified and the money searched for great investments. Sometimes referred to as VC 2.0, these focused less on the capital itself but on all aspects of success. Several sectors sprung up alongside VC: Incubators, Accelerators, and Venture Studios. “Incubators”—either corporations (Kötting,2022) or academic bodies that serve as micro-entrepreneurial ecosystems and “Accelerators,” hands-on venture firms providing services in kind in return for equity stakes. Along with the success of these two, a new concept called “Venture Studios”—startup factories that started to standardize the venture creation process, allowing founders to focus on their visions, also developed.
Public Policies, Technological Competitiveness, and VCs
Recognizing technology as the driving force behind business competitiveness and economic advancement, governments across the world framed appropriate policies to foster economic growth and forge partnerships. Spurred by fears of lagging American technological competitiveness, the US government introduced the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, which gave the Small Business Administration authority to create new Small Business Investment Companies (SBIC) to finance early-stage companies similar to venture capital. In its early days, SBICs controlled most of the risk capital in the US. Soon, the challenges of the poorly designed SBIC program structure surfaced, resulting in the scaling back of the program. The other notable policy interventions that have shaped the VC industry are The Revenue Act of 1978, the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, and the changes to the “prudent man rule” in 1979. The Revenue Act of 1978 reduced the capital gains tax rate and increased the tax advantage, which was later reduced with the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. ERISA had imposed limitations on pension fund commitments to VC, and the “prudent man rule” was relaxed in 1979. Pension funds were allowed to allocate up to 10% of their capital to VC funds, and thus Pension funds became an important source of capital to VC funds and are the invisible investors driving the VCs across the world.
Another policy that shaped the VC landscape is the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, 2012, increasing the number of maximum shareholders in a private company from 500 to 2,000, allowing companies to grow with private backing, in turn, discouraging several new IPOs. This policy change increased private valuations and returns and brought about heaps of nontraditional capital, including corporate venture capital groups, hedge funds, mutual funds, and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). The role of the venture market extended into company growth cycles and changed a pre-IPO company’s risk/reward profile. The term “unicorn” (coined by Aileen Lee in 2013) not only entered the startup jargon but became an essential piece of the VC landscape.
With the changes in public policies and institutional structures, VCs emerged as an asset class in the 1970s, along with increased growth and maturing of the VC industry in the 1980s. The 1990s witnessed another surge due to several factors, including the increased flow of private and public pension funds; the explosion of activity in the market for initial public offerings; corporate investments in venture capital; corporate collaborations by independent venture capital groups, and others. In addition, corporate participation in VCs was triggered and fueled by the hype and rapid growth of the Internet and the attendant euphoria and excitement of the new digital era.
R & D, Innovation, and Venture Capital Funds
Another factor for the intensifying and unprecedented increase in corporate venture capital spending was a fundamental shift and rethinking in the R & D and innovation process. A range of firms across sectors realized the challenges of the Internet age in doing business. However, they needed the wherewithal to leverage the opportunities and address the challenges of new digital technologies. Corporate investments in VCs offered a means to wrestle with these new technologies and their impact on businesses. While corporates began to view VCs favorably because of the “R & D” advantage, VCs also began to woo corporations for funds and to structure various collaborations.
A significant body of literature empirically studies the impact of VCs on economic development measured in terms of innovation, R & D stock, knowledge creation, and absorptive capacity. Studies have established the link between VC and these economic development metrics, though whether it is causal or correlational is not conclusive; Romain & Van Pottelsberghe (2004) conclude that a high VC intensity further improves the economic impact of private and public R & D capital stocks. Additionally, VC also makes it easier to absorb the knowledge generated by universities and firms. Thus VC activity improves the “crystallization” of knowledge into new products and processes.
Herzer (2022) concludes that researchers in both the public and private sectors contribute to the stock of technical knowledge relevant to developing new and better products and production processes—indirectly by conducting basic scientific research and/or directly by conducting practical applied research.
Using US patent data, Howell et al. (2020) empirically evidence that venture capital-backed firms were between two and four times as likely to have filed patents in the top percentiles of influence measured by citations, originality, generality, and closeness to science.
The R & D intensity of VC-backed publicly traded firms relates to venture capital’s role in financing repeated waves of technological innovation:
- the semiconductor revolution and diffusion of mainframe computing in the 1960s
- the advent of personal computing in the early 1980s
- the biotechnology revolution of the 1980s
- the introduction of the Internet and e-commerce in the 1990s
After the “dot-com bust” and significant decline in 2000, the role of venture capital firms in financing technological revolutions continued in the 2000s, as exemplified by the widespread diffusion of “smart” mobile communications technologies and new businesses enabled by the rise of cloud computing (Lerner & Nanda, 2020).
Thomas Mason, Laboratory Director at Los Alamos National Laboratory, says, “As history has demonstrated, the countries that lead in innovation reap the benefits of the resulting economic growth and enjoy a strategic advantage in security.”
Venture Capital: Global Trends
In 2020, North America had the highest value of VC deal funding globally, totaling over USD 130 billion in financing. North America also dominated regarding the value of deals closed that year, followed by Asia and Europe. Similarly, the highest volume of VC financing deals was also closed in North America—just under 6,500 deals in total. Following the pattern of deal value, Asia had the second-highest number of VC financing deals closed, and Europe the third-highest
The India Story
Despite being a relatively young nation (which became independent from colonial Britain in 1947) and the largest democracy in the world, India has carved a unique and unassailable position in the global economy. As the fifth largest economy in the world with a GDP of $3.5 trillion and a highly diverse nation of 1.4 billion people, India is attractive because of its sheer size and scale, not to mention the large pool of talent. Since the dot-com boom of 2000, India is also positioning itself as a global IT services powerhouse. Additionally, Indian Americans in the US are “the Other One Percent,” constituting the most educated and highest income group in the world’s most advanced nation. Authors Sanjoy Chakravorty, Devesh Kapur, and Nirvikar Singh of the book The Other Percent note that this unique phenomenon is driven by—and, in turn, has influenced—wide-ranging changes, especially the ongoing revolution in information technology and its impact on economic globalization, immigration policies in the United States, higher education policies in India, and foreign policies of both nations.
Ilya Strebulaev, a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor researching the Venture Capital & Private Equity space, found that out of 1,078 founders across 500 US unicorns, 90 entrepreneurs (8.3%) were born in India. This relatively high number is significant and perhaps influenced the VC landscape in India.
Financing Business and Entrepreneurship in India
Given its unique and disadvantaged position as a developing and newly formed democracy, India was molded in the mixed economy socialist era until the 1990s and liberalized its economy only in 1991. Given its socialistic moorings, funding for new businesses was available only from certain banks and government-owned development financial institutions such as Industrial Finance Corporation of India Ltd (IFCI, 1948); Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India Ltd (ICICI, 1955); Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI-1964); including some specialized financial institutions such as Risk Capital and Technology Finance Corporation Ltd (RCTC,1988); Technology Development and Information Company of India Ltd (TDICI,1988); and Tourism Finance Corporation of India Ltd (TFCI-1989). Furthermore, in addition to the central government agencies, a set of state-level financial institutions such as the State Finance Corporation (SFCs,1951) and State Industrial Development Corporations (SIDCs, 1995: there are 28 SIDCs in India) financing diverse industries.
India’s IT revolution
The book Against All Odds: The IT Story of India by S. “Kris” Gopalakrishnan, N. Dayasindhu, and Krishnan Narayanan is an insider’s account of the history of the Indian IT sector over the last six decades. The Indian IT industry generated $227 billion in revenues, accounting for 9 percent of India’s GDP and 51 percent of its services exports in the fiscal year 2021-2022, and employs more than 5 million people. The book clearly demonstrates the stellar role played by the Indian government through visionary bureaucrats like N Vittal and N Seshagiri, apart from numerous academic stalwarts like R Narasimhan, V Rajaraman, and others. A big boost to This sector came from a diverse set of government programs, including the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI), launched in 1991. Startup India is an initiative of the Government of India launched in 2016 to spur entrepreneurship in India. It is intended to catalyze startup culture and build a solid and inclusive ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in India. Since its inception in 2015, several government policies, thematic funds, incubation programs, tax holidays, and tax benefit schemes have been launched under the Startup India initiative. Financial assistance in the form of seed funding to startups for proof of concept, prototype development, product trials, market-entry, and commercialization is provided.
The Growth of Venture Capital in India
The venture capital industry in India evolved in the late 1980s. In 1988, the Government of India accorded legal status to venture capital operations. The Technology Development and Information Company of India Ltd. (TDICI), an equal joint venture of ICICI and the Unit Trust of India (UTI), was the first to commence venture capital operations in India. The first private venture capital fund was sponsored by CFC (Credit Capital Finance Corporation) and promoted by the Bank Of India, the Asian Development Bank, and the Commonwealth Development Corporation. The next milestone is the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) (Venture Capital Fund) Regulations, 1996, which defined the regulatory framework of the industry, followed by the (SEBI) (Foreign Venture Capital Investor) Regulations, 2000. Venture capital finance in India can be categorized into three groups: promoted by Central Government, State Governments, and Private funds. For example, the Central Government-controlled development finance institutions are SIDBI Venture Capital Limited (SVCL) and IFCI Venture Capital Funds Limited (IVCF). Each state government has its own brand of VC funds; for example, the Karnataka Information Technology Venture Capital Fund (KITVEN Fund) is a Venture Capital Fund (VCF) operating in the State of Karnataka since 1999 and is backed by State & Central Government financial institutions.
Reaching Escape Velocity and Stellar Growth
Despite its slow and sluggish start, the Indian startup ecosystem appears to be on steroids for around a decade. An almost 13x increase over the last decade from a modest $3.1 billion in 2012 to $38.5 billion in 2021 demonstrates explosive growth. Estimates suggest over $400 billion in valuation across more than 50,000 startups in India. As Sheth et al. (2022) note, 2021 was a pivotal year for the Indian venture capital investment landscape. A convergence of heady tailwinds came together in a record growth year as VC funding reached $38.5 billion with several highlights, including an increase of 3.8x over 2020, faster than China’s (1.3x), accounted for greater than 50% of overall private equity (PE) and VC investments in the country; 44 unicorns were minted in India, exceeding China’s 42 unicorns in the year. The active Investor base has spiraled in India and seen a significant expansion, reaching 660 + investors from a base of 516 in 2020. VC investments in India reached escape velocity as the startup ecosystem reached an inflection point in 2021.
“We believe that the Indian tech market has finally hit PMF—a perfect storm of talent, capital, infrastructure, depth in demand, and other enablers is brewing. The next decade is going to be growth.”—Elevation Capital.
2021: Banner Year and the 100th Unicorn milestone
India has emerged as the third-largest startup ecosystem and the third-largest unicorn hub, after the US and China, with about 60,000 startups and 107 unicorns. These startups are not only developing innovative solutions & technologies but are continuously generating large-scale employment opportunities. The Indian startup economy crossed a significant milestone by adding the 100th Indian startup to the unicorn club in 2022.
107 Indian unicorns have raised $94 billion in funding and are now valued at around $343 billion combined. Unicorns such as InMobi, the first VC-backed Indian company to cross the milestone in 2011, to neo-banking startup Open, India’s 100th unicorn in 2021, are turbocharging the VC and Startup landscape. In addition, four companies—Flipkart, Swiggy, Oyo, and Byju’s—have earned the status of decacorns. Household name Flipkart, which became a Unicorn in 2012, jostling for position in the eCommerce space with global giant Amazon, was acquired by US retail giant Walmart in 2018. On the other hand, ride-sharing platform Ola, founded in 2010, is in neck-to-neck competition with the global giant Uber. In the food delivery segment, both Swiggy, which became decacorn in 2022, and Zomato, which entered the unicorn club in 2015 and became the first Indian tech startup to IPO in 2021, are making waves. Other IPOs that made headlines are Nykaa, PolicyBazaar, Paytm, and Freshworks. BYJU’S, an edtech company founded in 2011, valued at $22 billion, is the first Indian company to sponsor the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Given that many VC-backed companies have reached the astral plane, the Indian tech market will most likely see tremendous growth, despite the recent chill. Call it achieving escape velocity. Call it too big to fail.
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Cite this article in APA as: Urs, S. (2023, January 5). Venture capital in the US and India: Synergistic investing—Fireside chat with venture capitalist Sid Mookerji. Information Matters, Vol. 3, Issue 1. https://informationmatters.org/2022/12/venture-capital-in-the-us-and-india-synergistic-investing-fireside-chat-with-venture-capitalist-sid-mookerji/