Venture Capital

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What is 'Venture Capital'

Venture capital is financing that investors provide to startup companies and small businesses that are believed to have long-term growth potential. Venture capital generally comes from well-off investors, investment banks and any other financial institutions. However, it does not always take just a monetary form; it can be provided in the form of technical or managerial expertise.

Though it can be risky for the investors who put up the funds, the potential for above-average returns is an attractive payoff. For new companies or ventures that have a limited operating history (under two years), venture capital funding is increasingly becoming a popular – even essential – source for raising capital, especially if they lack access to capital markets, bank loans or other debt instruments. The main downside is that the investors usually get equity in the company, and thus a say in company decisions.

BREAKING DOWN 'Venture Capital'

In a venture capital deal, large ownership chunks of a company are created and sold to a few investors through independent limited partnerships that are established by venture capital firms. Sometimes these partnerships consist of a pool of several similar enterprises. One important difference between venture capital and other private equity deals, however, is that venture capital tends to focus on emerging companies seeking substantial funds for the first time , while private equity tends to fund larger, more established companies that are seeking an equity infusion or a chance for company founders to transfer some of their ownership stake.

 Angel Investors

For small businesses, or for up-and-coming businesses in emerging industries, venture capital is generally provided by high net worth individuals (HNWIs) – also often known as ‘angel investors’ – and venture capital firms. The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) is an organization composed of hundreds of venture capital firms that offer funding to innovative enterprises.

Angel investors are typically a diverse group of individuals who have amassed their wealth through a variety of sources. However, they tend to be entrepreneurs themselves, or executives recently retired from the business empires they've built.

Self-made investors providing venture capital typically share several key characteristics. The majority look to invest in companies that are well-managed, have a fully-developed business plan and are poised for substantial growth. These investors are also likely to offer funding to ventures that are involved in the same or similar industries or business sectors with which they are familiar. If they haven't actually worked in that field, they might have had academic training in it. Another common occurrence among angel investors is co-investing, where one angel investor funds a venture alongside a trusted friend or associate, often another angel investor.

The Venture Capital Process

The first step for any business looking for venture capital is to submit a business plan, either to a venture capital firm or to an angel investor. If interested in the proposal, the firm or the investor must then perform due diligence, which includes a thorough investigation of the company's business model, products, management and operating history, among other things.

Since venture capital tends to invest larger dollar amounts in fewer companies, this background research is very important. Many venture capital professionals have had prior investment experience, often as equity research analysts; others have  Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degrees. Venture capital professionals also tend to concentrate in a particular industry. A venture capitalist that specializes in healthcare, for example, may have had prior experience as a healthcare industry analyst.

Once due diligence has been completed, the firm or the investor will pledge an investment of capital in exchange for equity in the company. These funds may be provided all at once, but more typically the capital is provided in rounds. The firm or investor then takes an active role in the funded company, advising and monitoring its progress before releasing additional funds.

The investor exits the company after a period of time, typically four to six years after the initial investment, by initiating a merger, acquisition or initial public offering (IPO).

A Day In The Life

Like most professionals in the financial industry, the venture capitalist tends to start his or her day with a copy of the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and other respected business publications. Venture capitalists that specialize in an industry tend to also subscribe to the trade journals and papers that are specific to that industry. All of this information is often digested each day along with breakfast.

For the venture capital professional, most of the rest of the day is filled with meetings. These meetings have a wide variety of participants, including other partners and/or members of his or her venture capital firm, executives in an existing portfolio company, contacts within the field of specialty and budding entrepreneurs seeking venture capital.

At an early morning meeting, for example, there may be a firm-wide discussion of a potential portfolio investment. The due diligence team will present the pros and cons of investing in the company. An "around the table" vote may be scheduled for the next day as to whether or not to add the company to the portfolio.

An afternoon meeting may be held with a current portfolio company. These visits are maintained on a regular basis in order to determine how smoothly the company is running and whether the investment made by the venture capital firm is being utilized wisely. The venture capitalist is responsible for taking evaluative notes during and after the meeting and circulating the conclusions among the rest of the firm.

After spending much of the afternoon writing up that report and reviewing other market news, there may be an early dinner meeting with a group of budding entrepreneurs who are seeking funding for their venture. The venture capital professional gets a sense of what type of potential the emerging company has, and determines whether further meetings with the venture capital firm are warranted. After that dinner meeting, when the venture capitalist finally heads home for the night, he or she may take along the due diligence report on the company that will be voted on the next day, taking one more chance to review all the essential facts and figures before the morning meeting.