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Read the Top U.S. Startup Cities For 2016 Report

The top seven cities in the U.S. for startups in 2016 were San Francisco, New York, Boston, Cambridge, Palo Alto, Austin, and Seattle. These cities each received $2 billion in investment, had 58 new deals, and had 479 active VC-backed startups on average in 2016.

While these well-known startup cities continue to dominate the landscape, startup clusters are forming all over the U.S.  Policymakers in many cities that historically were not associated with high-growth, high-tech firms are now clearing succeeding in cultivating startups, as a strategy to boost their local economies.

 

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Read the Houston Growth vs. Transactional VC Report

Houston’s high-tech ecosystem can only flourish if it attracts more growth venture capital investments, according to the latest McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation issue brief, “Growth vs. Transactional Venture Capital in Houston, Texas.”

A realistic, but aggressive, goal for Houston would be around a 15 percent year-on-year increase in growth venture capital. This would allow Houston to reach roughly $170 million in growth venture capital by 2022.

According to the report, “Houston would then likely become a top 25 U.S. city for high-growth, high-technology startups, though its ecosystem would still be emerging and startups would remain a very small part of Houston’s economy.”

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McNair Center Startup Ecosystems

Ranking Startup Activity in Cities

Are startup hubs exclusive to a handful of U.S. cities? Or is high-technology entrepreneurship spreading throughout the country? To answer these questions, the McNair Center recently published The Top 100 U.S. Startup Cities in 2016,  ranking startup activity by tracking venture capital deals in U.S. cities. The report found that roughly 70% of startup activity is concentrated in 50 American cities. While the top seven U.S. cities for entrepreneurship are San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Cambridge, Palo Alto, Austin and Seattle, startup clusters are also forming in many American cities.

There are several rankings of startup activity. While these rankings use different methodologies, the results point toward the same trends in startup activity. This blog post compares the McNair Center’s methodology and that of rankings published by the Kauffman Foundation, City Lab /Martin Prosperity Institute and Startup Genome. We also identify the consistent themes across the rankings.

Kauffman Foundation: Startup Activity by Rate of New Entrepreneurs

The Kauffman Foundation ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by new business creation activity and the number of people engaging in business startup activity, using the following three metrics: the rate of new entrepreneurs, the opportunity share of new entrepreneurs and startup density.

The rate of new entrepreneurs measures the percentage of the adult population of an area that became entrepreneurs each month. Opportunity share of new entrepreneurs provides the percent of new entrepreneurs who were employed before starting their business; this metric tracks entrepreneurs who started their own businesses because they saw a market opportunity. Startup density is the number of startup firms per 1,000 companies. Startup firms are defined here as as small businesses that are less than one year old and employee one person in addition to the owner. This web-based ranking is dynamic, and the data can be downloaded. Users have several options such as measuring startup activity by larger or smaller states and by growth entrepreneurship. While the overall rank is a weighted average, users can also change the ranking for each individual measure.

City Lab / Martin Prosperity Institute: Measuring Global Venture Capital

A 2016 ranking prepared by City Lab with the help of the Martin Prosperity Institute provides the geography of venture capital investment in high-tech startups for more than 200 U.S. metro areas for 2016. This analysis ranks metro areas in terms of the total dollar amount of VC investment, as well as their share of national venture investment. The ranking provides individual rankings for venture capital investment, deal share and venture investment per capita. According to their findings, “No matter how you slice it, venture capital-backed high technology remains spiky, and if anything, it may be getting spikier.”

The Martin Prosperity Institute’s 2015 ranking, The Rise of the Global Startup City, finds that the U.S. accounts for nearly 70% of total venture capital worldwide, followed by Asia (14.4%) and Europe (13.5 %). Both the 2016 and 2015 rankings rely on venture capital investment in absolute numbers and percentage as their key measure for startup activity.

Startup Genome: Global Focus with Eight Success Factors

Startup Genome has identified eight factors that drive the growth of high-technology firms: funding, market reach, global connectedness, technical talent, startup experience, resource attraction, corporate involvement, founder ambition and strategy. Startup Genome’s ranking assesses 55 startup ecosystems across 28 countries and ranks the top 20 for 2017. Analyzing roughly 100 metrics that measure the eight external and internal factors, Startup Genome measures startup performance by growth over the first years of operation.

The top five regions in the 2017 ranking are Silicon Valley, New York City, London, Beijing and Boston. Startup Genome finds that greater global connectedness leads to higher ecosystem performance. Startups’ ability to reach out outside their own ecosystems highly correlates with attracting global customers.

McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Measuring U.S. Venture Capital

Our research paper analyzes startup activity based on three venture capital metrics: the dollars invested, which measures the total amount of growth-oriented venture capital invested into startup firms in a city; the number of new deals, which looks at the number of startups that received their first-ever round of venture capital financing; and the number of startups backed by venture capital, which gauges the overall scale of a city’s ecosystem.

We ranked cities on each of these three measures for 2016 and then assigned them an overall rank by equally weighting the component metric rankings. Our methodology is similar to the global ranking produced by City Lab/Martin Prosperity Institute, but we create a composite ranking of U.S. cities based on the weighted average of each measure, while City Lab/Martin Prosperity Institute publishes individual rankings for each metric.

Common Trends

The top 20 cities for each ranking is compiled in Figure 1. Across all the rankings, startup activity is highly concentrated in a handful of U.S. cities. The global assessment done by Startup Genome shows that the U.S. leads the world in high-technology entrepreneurship.

Other trends include:

San Francisco ranks number one for McNair and City Lab/Martin Prosperity
New York City takes the second spot for McNair, City Lab/Martin Prosperity and Startup Genome
Boston-Cambridge, San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley, Austin, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles are consistently the U.S. cities with the highest rankings across the four studies
• California cities are spread all over the rankings, confirming the spillover effect in the San Francisco Bay Area
• San Francisco and Silicon Valley are at the top of all of the rankings except for the Kauffman Foundation. The Kauffman Foundation ranking measures entrepreneurship by new business creations, which combines small businesses and startups. For example, the Houston metropolitan area has the 9th spot on the Kauffman Foundation ranking, yet it is not shown as part of the top 20 in any other of the rankings. This result reflects a high rate of small business creation in Houston, not its startup ecosystem.

Figure 1. Top 20 Cities across 4 Rankings

Conclusion: Why Is Venture Capital Our Preferred Measure?

Venture capital provides comparable and systematic information on investment that can be directly linked to specific geographical locations. The amount of venture capital invested in an area shows the supply of financial capital available in the ecosystem.

Venture capitalists invest in high-tech, high-growth startups, not small businesses. This difference is key to assessing the innovation taking place in any given area. High levels of venture capital indicate that there is a healthy demand for this kind of financial capital. This increased competition creates the virtuous cycle that feeds a top ecosystem.

 

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McNair Center Startup Ecosystems

Houston’s Next Step: The Role of Funds of Funds in Venture Capital

Recently, Houston Exponential announced plans to create a venture capital Fund of Funds (VC FOF) to support the local entrepreneurship ecosystem. This strategy has been used by other cities and regions, such as Michigan and Cincinnati, to spur local startup growth. Private firms also offer VC Fund of Funds. What does this type of fund look like, and how has it played out in other locations?

The Basics

FOFs are funds that invest in multiple smaller funds. The increased diversification that they offer investors makes them attractive. However, there is a risk of overlap with FOFs; the many funds that make up the FOF may invest in the same entities. FOFs also may carry additional fees over a traditional fund because the the investor also has to pay the fees for the funds that constitute the larger FOF.

A VC FOF specifically invests in multiple venture capital funds. These venture capital funds then invest in local startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses investment. FOFs diversify investors’ portfolios by ensuring investment in a wide variety of companies. Many venture capital funds make up VC FOFs,  so their success depends on what investments the constituent VC funds make. In the private sector, the advertised appeal of  VC FOFs is diversification, early liquidity, and enhanced fund returns.

FOFs can also exist through firms that typically invest in mature companies and buy all of each company’s equity, known as “Buyout FOFs.” The Chicago Booth Review claims that VC FOFs offer more diversification than Buyout FOFs, with an average of 7 more individual funds in each VC FOF. The research also indicates that VC FOFs are “more likely, through fund selection and/or access, to overcome their additional layer of fees” than buyout FOFs. This suggests that VC FOFs may bring investors higher value than buyout FOFs.

Impact on Cities

The trend towards creating VC FOFs to boost local innovation began about a decade ago. In 2008, Michigan created the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund. The premise behind the fund was simple: “Venture capital is important for economic growth and [Michigan is] underserved in the amount of venture capital available to fund exciting new ideas and technologies.” By investing specifically in VC funds that are active in Michigan, the Renaissance VC Fund provides the necessary capital for Michigan startups to grow and thrive.

Currently, the fund claims to receive a 21:1 return on every dollar they invest. With this success, they have grown; the fund has offices in both Ann Arbor and Detroit. Figure 1 shows the spike in investment and deals following the introduction of the Renaissance Fund. However, investment and deals seemed to have tapered off in recent years. Nonetheless, the new plateau does seem to be slightly higher than the average values before the fund was introduced.

Figure 1: Michigan saw large increases in investment in 2010 and 2011. Deals then peaked in 2013. Michigan introduced the Renaissance Fund in 2008.

In 2012, Cincinnati created a fund modeled on Michigan’s Renaissance Fund. Cincinnati-based corporations, like Kroger and Proctor & Gamble, created the Cintrifuse Early Stage Capital Fund I, LLC, which exclusively makes seed and early-stage investments in local startups.

According to Cintrifuse, the fund has resulted in a net increase of $24 million in value to the city. Figure 2 shows the spike in deals in both 2012 and 2014. Investment also peaked in 2014, relatively soon after the fund’s introduction. Nonetheless, the introduction of this program seemed to have no noticeable impact on Cincinnati’s overall GDP in 2012 and afterwards. The number of deals and amount invested have also declined substantially since 2014.

Figure 2: Cincinnati’s VC deals spiked in 2012 and 2014. The city created Centrifuse in 2012.

What Will This Mean for Houston?

VC Fund of Funds seem to carry benefits for both investors and local VC/startup culture. However, no plan to boost growth is a guaranteed success. Michigan and Cincinnati have demonstrated that it is difficult to maintain momentum with these funds. These cities’ experiences teach us that the fund needs to place a sustained emphasis on providing capital to the local region. McNair Center research indicates there are about 50 VC firms in Houston. This means that there are firms for which the FOF can provide capital. These VC firms can then disburse funds to local businesses.

On the other side of the equation, Houston will need local entrepreneurs and startups in which VC can invest. According to McNair Center research, there are approximately 20 startups active within the 610 loop. However, looking outside the loop to the greater Houston area, there is an abundance of startups. Nonetheless, the industries in which these startups focus may not be as desirable for investors as others. Houston’s startups do not tend to focus on one specific industry, although medicine and energy are popular. Since tech is one of the most desirable fields for investment right now, Houston’s tech startup scene may need to develop further if a VC FOF is to succeed.

Both sides of this equation need to be present in order for VC FOF to successfully boost the city’s innovation scene. If this is the case, there is hope that a VC FOF could provide a welcome boost to Houston’s ecosystem.

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McNair Center Startup Ecosystems

Entrepreneurship for All: Washington D.C.

Washington, D.C. is known for its politicians and bureaucrats, but it’s also where the top-20 U.S. government contractors are based. In recent decades, high-tech, high-growth entrepreneurship has been on the rise in the U.S. capital. Startup ventures, coupled with a diverse economy, largely fueled by the federal government, have led D.C. to emerge as a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.

History of Entrepreneurship

The diversified needs of the federal government have led to a varied ecosystem. Feldman 2001 concludes that two unique conditions impacted the development of D.C.’s entrepreneurial culture: underemployed skilled labor caused by federal job cuts and the commercial exploitation of intellectual property rights from publicly funded research.

Changes in federal employment policy through the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 led the federal government to outsource goods and services in an effort to reduce civil service jobs.

The Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 created the Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) as a mechanism whereby nonfederal entities can collaborate with federal laboratories on research and development projects. CRADAs aim to promote technological competitiveness and technology transfer to marketable products.

Biotech found a partner in the federal government through CRADAs. Proximity to federal labs has created an important biotechnology cluster attracting Merck and Pfizer among others, as well as startups MedImmune and Human Genome Sciences, later acquired by GlaxoSmithKline.

Other notable startups that emerged under the public-private sector collaboration include Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, Inc. (SGT), who provides scientific and IT service solutions to a wide array of federal government agencies nationwide including NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Government outsourcing opportunities benefitted the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry. The earliest ITC entrepreneurs were government contractors, who began working on ARPANET, the predecessor of the internet.

When the federal government removed the commercial restriction on the use of internet in 1989, former contractors became tech startups with ample opportunities to grow their ventures.

Resources in D.C.

AOL is a prominent ICT company launched in the D.C. metropolitan area during the 1990s dot-com boom. AOL is also credited for shaping the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Prior to its relocation to Manhattan, AOL funded Fishbowl Labs, a business incubator located at its Dulles campus. Fishbowl Labs provides resources to startups at no cost and a mentorship program through its employee network.

The company also invested in firms such as the D.C.-based tech hub incubator 1776. The incubator is modeled after 1871 in Chicago and the General Assembly incubator in New York. Notable companies currently working with 1776 include Babyscripts, Cowlar and MUrgency. 1776 organizes networking events for the government innovator community to promote the interconnectivity of startups and D.C.’s main consumer, the federal government.

Washington D.C. boasts four top universities in the immediate area with entrepreneurship programs: The Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative at American University, Startup Hoyas at Georgetown University, Mason Innovation Lab at George Mason University and The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at George Washington University.

Current D.C. Startups

Washington D.C.’s economy is stable and diverse. As of February 2017, the area had an unemployment rate of 2.5% and the gross product of the area was $471 billion in 2014, making it the sixth-largest U.S. metropolitan economy.

D.C.’s ecosystem has historically been linked to government agencies, but more recently, the startup community has had greater diversity. Notable startups out of D.C. include LivingSocial, iStrategyLabs and CoFoundersLab. Advertising company iStrategyLabs has created devices and advertising campaigns for 21 Fortune 500 companies. CoFoundersLab connects entrepreneurs via an online network.

The success of LivingSocial has invigorated the D.C. ecosystem with a new generation of startups. Borrowing Magnolia, a wedding dress rental business, Galley, a freshly prepared food delivery service, and online custom framing business, Framebridge, are among the ventures founded by LivingSocial alumni.

Venture Capital in Washington, D.C.

The D.C. startup scene is home to a number of influential venture capital firms that help invigorate the ecosystem. Venture Capital investment in D.C. has reached around $350 million in investment for years 2014 and 2016, with investment lower than $200 million in 2015.

According to a report from the Martin Prosperity Institute detailing worldwide VC investment in high-tech startups, D.C. is ranked eighth in the world with a total cumulative venture capital investment of $835 million until year 2012 (the most recent year these detailed data are available).

Data indicating the number of first-round deals in D.C. illustrate a stable ecosystem with an average of 36 first-round deals per year in the last five years.

One of the largest venture capital firms in the world, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), calls both D.C. and Silicon Valley home. In 2015, NEA’s fourteenth investment fund closed with $3.1 billion in investor capital, making it the largest venture capital fund ever raised. NEA invests in technology and health care companies around the world, but continues to support companies in D.C. such as online movie player SnagFilms and software producer Cvent

A diverse portfolio of venture capital firms are settled in the ecosystem to guarantee funding sustainability. Fortify Ventures, an early stage technology investment fund, nurtures investors and entrepreneurs. Fortify has received $100,000 in funding from the D.C. mayor’s office. D.C. startup, Social Tables, recently raised $13 million in Series B funding from Fortify Ventures and other investors.

Other notable venture capital firms in the D.C. area include Groundwork VC, a fund for minority founders, New Atlantic Ventures, a firm that invests in early stage startups and NextGen Venture Partners, which transitioned from an angel network into a venture capital firm this year.

D.C. venture capital investment is strong, but compared to areas such as San Francisco, which posted over six billion dollars in venture capital investment, San Jose (approximately $4 billion) and Boston (approximately $3 billion), VC investment in D.C. still has room to grow.

Startup-Friendly Government Policy

Local government policy incentivizes companies to move to or remain in D.C. The District waives corporate income taxes for the first five years and provides new-hire wage reimbursements for startups. However, D.C.’s regulatory environment still implies high costs for obtaining business licenses and permits.

Washington’s venture capital firms, angel networks and private investors cannot compete with the extensive network and resources in established ecosystems like Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle in North Carolina. According to Dow Jones VentureSource, about 50% of all venture capital invested in the United States goes to companies in Silicon Valley.

Despite Silicon Valley’s dominance, D.C.’s location, culture and resources position it as a strong ecosystem. D.C. will continue to take advantage of the resources and opportunities presented by the federal government.

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McNair Center Startup Ecosystems

Mile-High Entrepreneurship

Boulder has long been considered Colorado’s startup hub, but Denver is emerging as a strong contender. Mentoring and venture capital support have helped Denver’s ecosystem expand rapidly so that it is well on its way to becoming self-sustaining.

Denver has garnered a reputation as one of the best places for high-tech, high-growth ventures.The total number of tech startups located in downtown Denver has increased by 13% in the last two years; 4% above the national average in new startup growth. Denver has collected accolades that ranging from the Best Place for Business and Careers by Forbes to the third Best Place in the Country to Launch a Startup according to Washington D.C.-based accelerator, 1776.

History

Colorado has a history of high-growth entrepreneurship ranging from telecommunications (Dish Cable) to restaurant chains (Chipotle and Quiznos). The state’s venture capital-backed startup activity began in the 1980’s when national venture funds such as Access Ventures, Vista Ventures, Sequel Ventures and Heritage Group invested in local Denver startups. By 2000, Denver was supporting a startup ecosystem, but successful companies left the state or were sold to out-of-state purchasers. VC funding collapsed after the tech bubble burst.

In 2006 Jared Polis, Brad Feld, David Cohen and David Brown established Boulder-based Techstars, which brought the nascent startup ecosystems of Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs together. Accepting only 1% of applicants, Techstars is extremely competitive. Graduates of this three-month program average approximately $1.8 million in outside financing. In exchange for 7-10% equity, Techstars provides $18,000 in seed funding, a $100,000 convertible debt and mentorship opportunities. Denver alumni include UsingMiles, FullContact, Revolar and MeetMindful.

Techstars is not the only catalyst for the entrepreneurial community in the region. Former Denver mayor and current Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, himself an entrepreneur before entering politics, implemented policies that made supporting startups a central focus for economic recovery and growth.

Colorado’s Entrepreneur Friendly Policies

Colorado policymakers has made entrepreneurship a central focus. The state legislature has lowered tax rates and lifted regulatory burdens for the business community. Colorado taxes business at a flat rate of 4.63%, one of the lowest business income tax levels in the country.

Governor Hickenlooper has championed programs such as the Colorado Innovation Network (COIN), which works to connect the 29 Colorado research facilities with entrepreneurs. In 2014, the Colorado Impact Fund was launched, a public-private fund that estimates making 10-15 investments through 2020.

Home-Grown Resources

Since 2010, downtown Denver has added an average of almost 16,000 residents per year, resulting in a population increase of over 13% in the past five years. This remarkable growth has been accompanied with an increase in the number of homegrown startups. As a result, there is a significant number of resources available for Denver entrepreneurs.

Established in 2012, Denver Startup Week draws entrepreneurs from across the country. In 2016, Denver Startup Week attracted 12,500 people from across the country with 300 events, making it the biggest free entrepreneurial event in North America. Entrepreneurs participate in an elevator pitch competition and interact with VC fund representatives.

The Commons on Champa is a high-tech co-working space that brands itself as “Denver’s public campus for entrepreneurship.” Entrepreneurs have access to networking events, panels, workshop and onsite mentors.

The Rockies Venture Club (RVC) helps to bridge the gap between Denver entrepreneurs and investors. RVC is a Denver angel group that provides educational programs. In addition, RVC hosts events where entrepreneurs and investors can meet and make deals.

The University of Denver’s entrepreneurship initiative, Project X-ITE, brings a number of resources to students. Ranked as one of the top 30 entrepreneurial universities in the United States by Forbes, Project X-ITE is a cross-disciplinary initiative focused on the intersection of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

The second quarter of 2018 will mark the opening of Catalyst HTI, which will serve a dual role as incubator and accelerator. Catalyst HTI will bring together entrepreneurs in technology and health care to create state-of-the art incubator and accelerator in downtown Denver. Companies such as CirrusMD and Revolar have already committed to joining the community.

Entrepreneurship for Women

In 2013, Denver was named one of the best places for women to start a business as by Nerdwallet. There are several female-focused resources in the city. Denver’s female entrepreneurs have found support from startup accelerator program MergeLane, which specifically invests in female-led companies. Recently, the Commons on Champa also launched Women on the Rise, an initiative aimed to support and celebrate the success of female entrepreneurs.

Other notable resources include The Coterie, Denver’s first women co-working community, and Women Who Startup, which hosts monthly meetings. SheSays, an international trade organization based in the UK, launched in SheSaysDenver in 2014 and counts over 1,000 women as members. SheSaysDenver provides free mentoring and events to women working in technology and business.

Venture Capital

Overall, Denver VC investment is reflective of nationwide trends, with investment decreasing after the Great Recession, and recovering around 2010. Denver firms such as the Foundry Group, Grotech Ventures and Access Ventures are anchoring investment in the ecosystem.
Local VC received a significant increase in 2015 after Welltok raised a massive $45 million round of investment. VC investment has stabilized around $500 million in investments each year since 2014. However, the 2016 Colorado Startup Report notes that the total funding raised in 2016 was distributed across more than 129 different technology companies, indicating a greater distribution of capital. The Downtown Denver Startup Report indicates that in 2015 alone, more than 165 tech startups were founded in Denver in 2015.

Data indicating the number of first round deals in Denver illustrate a stable ecosystem with an average of around 50 first-round deals per year.

Looking to the Future

Denver entrepreneurs have noted that there is a significantly lower amount of early stage fundraising in the ecosystem. However, this is a reflection of a nationwide trend of cautious investing in early-stage investment.

Denver does have early stage VC investors, but in many cases, does rely on angel investors to supply funding. The University of Colorado’s Silicon Flatiron recommends the continued support of Colorado and Denver super-angel funds, also known as Micro-VCs, which are about $2-$10 million in size and specialize in early stage investing.

In the coming years, it is likely that Denver’s ecosystem will reach critical mass and consolidate as an attractive option for local and out-of-state entrepreneurs. With a strong and growing infrastructure for entrepreneurship, Denver’s startup growth and success is likely to continue.

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McNair Center Startup Ecosystems

Gateway to Entrepreneurship: St. Louis

You probably know St. Louis as the Gateway to the West, but the city is emerging as a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. For decades, St. Louis followed the economic development model of attracting and keeping large out-of-town companies with generous tax breaks and subsidies. In the 1990’s, political and business leaders became frustrated with the slow economic growth under these policies and began implementing entrepreneur-friendly policies.

While the city has not abandoned tax breaks and other subsidies to attract big companies, it has adopted an entrepreneurship model driven by state and private efforts. This model appears to be working. Data from the Census Bureau show 9.7 percent of businesses in St. Louis are startups less than three years old. St. Louis can now boast the second best rate of startup growth in the country.

Venture Capital

St.LouisFirstRounds
Author’s calculations based on data from SDC Platinum VentureXpert

It is widely believed that an ecosystem should be producing 30 to 35 deals per year to beconsidered stable. St. Louis saw three consecutive years of 30 or more first-round deals from 2013 to 2015. While 2016 reflects a poor year for St. Louis VC investment and first rounds, this decline reflects a nationwide trend.

StLouisVC
Author’s calculations based on data from SDC Platinum VentureXpert

 

 

St. Louis boasts sizable venture capital investment. Like many ecosystems, St. Louis suffered from the dot-com bust in the early 2000’s, but a strong pattern of VC investment seems to be emerging. How has St. Louis achieved venture capital growth?

History

The first entrepreneurship-focused programs established in St. Louis were the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Skandalaris Entrepreneurship Program.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center provides support for plant scientists who work directly with the agriculture technology startups. The Danforth Plant Science Center cofounded the Ag Innovation Showcase, the premier agricultural technology and innovation showcase in the nation.

The Skandalaris Entrepreneurship Program began in 2001 at Washington University, but expanded in 2003 to the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Skandalaris Center provides entrepreneurial training, networking opportunities and a mentoring program.

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, St. Louis suffered. The “corporate jewel” Anheuser-Busch laid off hundreds at their St. Louis headquarters. St. Louis’ per capita personal income shrunk by 5 percent. The metro unemployment rate reached over 10 percent. Despite Danforth Plant Science Center and Skandalaris Entrepreneurship Program, there still was not much positive entrepreneurial output. Researchers and politicians blamed the national economy and the greater time required to establish agriculture-focused startups.

The St. Louis entrepreneurial ecosystem remained largely unsupported until 2012 when the nonprofit Information Technology Entrepreneurs Network (ITEN) began to catalyze the ecosystem. Jim Brasunas, a former telecommunications manager turned entrepreneur, founded ITEN by utilizing the public-private investment fund, Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC).

While ITEN was founded in 2008, many of the programs were not active until two or three years after its founding. Many entrepreneurs credit the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to Brasunas and ITEN.

Resources

St. Louis has the requisite components of a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem; highly ranked universities, research-focused centers, accelerators, incubators and venture capital funds. However, the strong private-public partnerships and women-focused accelerators make SSt_Louis_nightt. Louis’ ecosystem unique.

In 2012, MTC put a significant amount of seed money into a new economic development model, Arch Grants. Arch Grants runs a global competition to identify potential entrepreneurs from almost any industry sector. Arch Grants then provides entrepreneurs with $50,000 equity-free grants and pro bono support services if they agree to build their businesses in St. Louis. Over 100 startups have been awarded Arch Grants including RoverTown, which was named the fastest growing tech startup in St. Louis.

Accelerators

Accelerators are key components of any healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem, and St. Louis has a plethora of accelerators. Capital Innovators is a 12 week accelerator program that provides $50,000 in seed funding to startups. The accelerator focuses on IT and consumer product startups, such as LockerDome, Bonfyre and Fluent.

Another notable accelerator is BioSTL. The investment arm of BioSTL, BioGenerator, has worked to grow bioscience startups in the region since 2001. MediBeacon, BacterioScan and Galera Therapeutics are among the startups that have gone through BioGenerator.

SixThirty is St. Louis’ largest and most famous accelerator with corporate partners like State Farm and the St. Louis Regional Chamber. The accelerator provides up to $100,000 in funding and sponsors two cohorts per year. SixThirty’s expertise is venture capital and revenue acceleration for startups that are at the late-seed stage.

St. Louis’ agricultural-technology industry is back, and Yield Lab, opened in 2014, focuses on accelerating this industry. Its nine month AgTech program provides early-stage companies with $100,000 in funding and looks to add value to companies that from a nonfinancial standpoint. The Yield Lab opened a second accelerator in St. Louis’ sister city, Galway, Ireland in January of 2017. Graduates of the Yield Lab include S4, Arvengenix and Holganix.

In 2012, St. Louis ranked a disappointing 25th in a national survey of women’s entrepreneurship. Prosper Women Entrepreneurs (PWE) was born when community leaders realized that the region could significantly improve its economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem if women reached their entrepreneurial potential.

Women now own a higher share of startups in Missouri than in any other state. PWE offers support to a woman-owned company focusing on technology, health care IT and consumer startups. Graduates of PWE include Appticles, Bandura System and SixPlus.

Co-Working Spaces

In addition to accelerators, St. Louis has a significant number of co-working spaces such as Exit 11 Workspace and Hive44.

Founded in 1999, CIC St. Louis is the most famous of the St. Louis co-working space. CIC focuses on biotechnology and bioscience startups. $2.1 billion in VC has been raised by companies originally based at CIC and more than 800 companies call CIC home.

Venture Capitalists

St. Louis has a significant number of venture capitalist firms. While venture capitalist firms invest around the country and world, it is important to have firms in ecosystems as they often provide VC stability. Advantage Capital Partners, BioGenerator and RiverVest Ventures appear to serve as long term midsize anchor funds for St. Louis. Cultivation Capital raised its first fund in 2012. Lewis and Clark Ventures emerged in 2014 and are a midsize fund.

Looking to the Future

St. Louis is emerging as a stable and strong startup ecosystem in the Midwest. Efforts to increase private and public support for resources, as well as funding and tax credits for research, will facilitate St. Louis’ continued growth.

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McNair Center Weekly Roundup

Weekly Entrepreneurship Roundup 4/14

Weekly Roundup is a McNair Center series compiling and summarizing the week’s most important Entrepreneurship and Innovation news.

Here is what you need to know about entrepreneurship this week:


How to Make Texas More Startup-Friendly

Iris Huang, Research Assistant, McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

McNair Center’s Huang interviews Blake Commagere, entrepreneur, angel investor and startup mentor in the San Francisco Bay Area on how to improve an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Commagere graduated from Rice University in 2003 with a degree in Computer Science. Upon graduation, Commagere moved to Austin to begin his career as an entrepreneur and soon decided to move to Silicon Valley. Commagere has raised over $12 million in VC, started seven companies and sold five.

Commagere describes the pull of talent toward San Francisco as “a virtuous cycle,” where “former successful startup founders become the next generation angel investors and venture capitalists, who fund and help more startups succeed.” Silicon Valley’s concentrated network of VC firms and tech startups provide struggling entrepreneurs with a vast pool of mentorship opportunities, funding resources and talent. Budding startups heavily rely on local tech networks for early-stage support and advice. In order to develop its entrepreneurial ecosystem, Texas cities need to focus on building its tech space.

Additionally, the state’s cities must expand their VC presence. Otherwise, there will always be too many startups fighting for too little capital (as if this isn’t a problem already), and startups will continue to move to cities like San Francisco. Startups depend on local VC firms because many firms refrain from investing in companies outside their primary city. When firms do invest in outside companies, the qualification bar is set much higher.


Medical Device Startups and the FDA

Iris Huang, Research Assistant, McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

McNair Center’s Huang takes a look at the FDA approval process for medical devices. The medical device industry is a $140 billion market. For many companies in the industry, obtaining FDA approval is a long and costly path. For some, it’s a barrier. Of the 6,500 companies in medtech, 80 percent are composed of fewer than 50 employees.

A Stanford University survey of over 200 medtech companies found that the average cost for a low-to-moderate-risk 510(k) product to obtain FDA clearance was $31 million. The same survey found that it took these products 31 months from initial communications with the FDA to obtain clearance. For startups, these costs pose significant barriers to entry. Huang aptly summarizes this dilemma: “as the cost of getting to market approaches the average exit value, the medtech funding equation looks less attractive to venture capitalists.”

The FDA approval process acts as an essential screening point in the medtech industry. However, Huang recommends that policymakers consider possible ways to alleviate the significant burdens placed on the businesses involved in the development of these critical technologies.


First Data Joins Silicon Valley Bank In Fintech Accelerator

Tom Groenfeldt, Contributor, Forbes
Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) recently announced a collaboration with First Data, a global payments technology solutions company, on Commerce.Innovated, its fintech accelerator. Commerce.Innovated, founded in 2014, is a four-month long virtual accelerator for startups in the financial services and technologies sector. The accelerator, unlike most early stage accelerators, focuses on startups that have already secured or are in the process of securing seed or Series A funding.

According to SVB’s Reetika Grewal, the accelerator looks for firms with “five to 10 people with an idea they are committed to.” In this stage, startups usually require help with the “operational,” rather than conceptual, front of development. Commerce.Innovated helps fintech firms bring their solutions to market. Since these startups already possess strong leadership with a clear vision for their product, a virtual platform makes sense.


A $150 Million Fund, The Engine, Will Back Startups Others Find ‘Too Hard’

Lora Kolodny, Contributor, TechCrunch

The Engine is a venture fund and accelerator for “advanced technology startups.” The new fund recently closed its debut round at $150 million. Startups in The Engine’s portfolio gain access to one of MIT’s unique resources, The Engine Room, a laboratory for small startups to develop and test their technologies. In addition to to The Engine Room, startups also receive access to laboratory equipment and technologies from organizations in the greater Boston area.

Despite its close affiliation to MIT, The Engine invests “in teams and technologies that hail from a variety of industry and academic backgrounds, not just from the MIT ecosystem.” The Engine supports companies involved in the development of “hard-tech” – so basically anything “from advanced materials and manufacturing technologies to medical devices, robotics, artificial intelligence, nuclear energy, fusion and more.”

Hard-tech startups typically face higher costs, more risk and a longer development period than most B2B or consumer-focused software. These startups often find it difficult to find VCs willing to invest in their innovative, but risky technologies. The Engine, according to the fund’s CEO Katie Rae, is dedicated to lowering the costs of development and testing “hard-tech” and encouraging more entrepreneurs to go into the field.


Tax Reform Must Help Small Businesses, Too

Laurie Sprouse, Reporter, The Wall Street Journal

Laurie Sprouse, a small business owner from Dallas, covers tax reform and small businesses for The Wall Street Journal. As Sprouse points out, small businesses have added two thirds of new jobs to the U.S. economy in recent years. Still, analysts and policymakers continually propose tax overhauls that largely ignore the plight of small firms. Instead, politicians and reporters alike focus on alleviating financial burdens for larger corporations and providing helpful, but insufficient, tax credits for small businesses. According to Sprouse, “Only a plan that benefits businesses of all sizes equally will create the broad economic growth President Trump and Congress seek.”


Stripe Acquires Indie Hackers in Bid to Strengthen Relationship with Entrepreneurs

Ken Yeung, Contributor, VentureBeat

Founded in 2010, tech company Stripe delivers application programming interfaces (APIs) that support electronic payments for consumers and businesses. Recently, the firm announced plans to acquire Indie Hackers, a startup dedicated to creating an internet community for entrepreneurs to share their success stories and lessons. While the financial terms of the deal remain unclear, it seems that site will operate as an independent subsidiary of Stripe.

Indie Hackers founder, Courtland Allen, describes his site as a “community where successful founders could share their valuable stories and insights, and where aspiring entrepreneurs could go for inspiration and advice.” Meanwhile Stripe executives view the deal as an opportunity to grow “the GDP of the internet” by increasing the “overall number” of successful businesses.

In an interview with VentureBeat, a Stripe spokesperson revealed that the company wants to support Indie Hackers’ mission by taking on some of the budding site’s financial burden. In just under a year, the site already runs a monthly profit of $6,000. Going forward, Allen hopes to see Indie Hackers take on a similar role as Y Combinator’s Hacker News.

The Weekly Roundup will return in June. 


Categories
McNair Center Rice Entrepreneurs Startup Ecosystems

How to Make Texas More Startup-friendly

profileOver the last decade, Blake Commager (@commagere) has raised over $12 million in venture capital funding, started seven companies and sold fiveincluding the first version of Facebook Causes and some of the most popular apps on Facebook, such as Zombies and Vampires. Born and raised in Midland, Texas, Commager graduated from Rice in 1999 and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2003.

Commagere is the CEO of MediaSpike and an angel investor, advising several startups in the Bay Area. His varied experience in the tech startup space, from founder to investor and mentor, gives him a comprehensive perspective on the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem. As Commagere worked at a startup and tried to start a company in Austin before moving out to Silicon Valley, I was interested in learning why he chose to move out to the Bay Area and what Texas could do to better support startups.

Iris Huang: What brought you to the Silicon Valley?

Blake Commagere: I had always been interested in solving the problem of address book updating. In 2003, a friend of mine and I were working on our own company in Austin, and while doing competitive analysis, we found out Plaxo, a startup in Mountain View, California, was trying to solve the same problem. I liked their solution and they already had funding so I moved here to join the company.

I also felt the pressure to move to the Bay Area. By virtue of having a high concentration of tech talent, the Bay Area created a gravitational pull for even more tech talent. You see that with a lot of industries—they blow up largely in a few cities and as the ecosystem develops around them, the momentum increases, which makes it harder for other cities to compete. The more talent it has, the more successful the industry becomes in the region, the more new talent comes. The concentration of talent creates a virtuous cycle—in the Bay Area, the former successful startup founders become the next generation angel investors and venture capitalists, who fund and help more startups succeed.

The concentration of talent in the Bay Area has two main advantages:

The sheer concentration of talent and ecosystem make the process of building a startup easier, not a lot easier, but even if it’s just 2 percent easier, that makes all the difference. Given how hard it is to build a company, anything that makes it a little easier can be incredibly important. The high concentration of talent in the Bay Area makes it easier for startups to hire good employees. Startups will also have an easier time meeting people who can provide advice and introduce them to investors.

The large tech community in the Bay Area also provides a lot of emotional support, which turns out to be extremely important for startup founders. What’s unique about entrepreneurship is the combination of the high level of stress and lack of experience and resources. It’s very intimidating as an entrepreneur when you have a dozen things you have to do today but you have no idea how to do any of them. No business school teaches you what you need at a startup day to day. Sometimes other founders can’t help you either, but at least, you can commiserate with them. For example, after you pitch to a dozen VCs and no one wants to invest, you can talk to your community—they’ve all been through the pain so they understand how you feel. The therapeutic value of the commiseration is really important. You won’t feel so lonely, which, in addition to the hardship of building a company, could be overwhelming.

IH: How can Texas cities become more friendly to founders?

BC: A good ecosystem for startups cannot be developed overnight. It takes several entrepreneur/venture capital cycles—maybe over 20 years.

Someone should have a laser focus on building the tech community so entrepreneurs no longer feel alone in their journey. What entrepreneurs are trying to do is just too overwhelming to do on their own. They will leave for somewhere that has a supportive community if they can’t find the mentorship and network locally. In Austin, most of the time meetings happen by chance. Serendipity is unreliable—someone needs to build a tight knit community and make sure the support network is well-organized.

Someone has to bring capital there. No matter how great the idea is, you need to have money to fund it and make it happen. The number of VC firms and the amount of VC funding in Texas are limited (Note: total VC funding in Austin is $834 million, as compared to $25 billion in Silicon Valley according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers). In Silicon Valley, there are so many funds; a startup can be rejected by a dozen of the top VC firms and still be able to raise funds from hundreds of other VCs. However, in Austin, if you pitch to Austin Ventures and they say no, your fundraising is over.

Also, with a small number of VCs, their time is limited so they can only invest in a small number of companies. Imagine if there are 100 great startups that deserve to be funded but there are only six general partners in your region. Simply for lack of VCs, some of these companies won’t get what they need to survive.

IH: Why is it necessary to raise VC funds locally?

BC: Silicon Valley VCs are unlikely to invest in startups in Texas. VCs have strong motivation to invest in nearby companies because the nature of venture capital investing—95 percent of startups fail—forces them to use their time wisely. VCs usually take board seats at the startups they invest in. Every board seat they take is an opportunity cost, preventing them from taking others. When VCs invest in startups in other cities, they have to travel for board meetings. So the time they spend on that board seat is longer and the opportunity cost for that investment is higher. That’s why you can’t expect Bay Area VCs to invest in Texas startups and when they do, the bar might be three times higher for Texas startups than Bay Area startups.

Funding is not the only value VCs provide for startups; their professional network plays an important role in helping startups succeed as well. However, VCs’ network is geographically dependent. If the startups are far away, they will not be able to benefit from VCs’ powerful network. This lowers their chance of success. This also discourages VCs from investing outside their primary cities.

Raising a fund to start a VC firm in Austin or Houston could be challenging—the new VCs will have to take the extra step to convince potential limited partners that “there is a reason and opportunity to invest here,” instead simply joining all the other VCs are in the Bay Area. However, this is what has to happen. Ideally, the new VCs have built their career and network in Texas for many years, which gives them the motivation and ability to raise a fund locally.

IH: How can Texas cities retain local talent?

BC: It all comes back to the availability of VC funding. Frequently I see announcements that a city is hoping to make the city more attractive to startups with programs for office space or professional services. None of that is a big expense compared to your employee costs. Some people argue that since everything is more expensive in the Bay Area, it makes sense to stay in Austin or Houston. For example, with $1 million funding, you might be able to hire 10 employees in Houston, but in the Bay Area, you can only hire 5 employees with similar credentials. However, this is an unrealistic comparison. In Houston, you are more likely to get $0 funding so really you can’t hire anyone while in the Bay Area, you might be able to get $1 million and hire 5 employees.

Each entrepreneur has their own timeline—when they need to raise funding, if there’s no funding available in Austin or Houston, they either have to shut down their startups or move to the Bay Area and raise money here. Right now everyone just follows the gravity and moves to the Bay Area because that’s the easiest. Texas is losing the tech talents and startups that create so many jobs to the Bay Area. It is very important to break the cycle. Step one is to stop the talent drain with VC funding and keep startups here. As the ecosystem matures, the long-term goal is to make it as easy to raise funding in major Texas cities as in the Bay Area.

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McNair Center Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup on Entrepreneurship 4/7

Weekly Roundup is a McNair Center series compiling and summarizing the week’s most important Entrepreneurship and Innovation news.

Here is what you need to know about entrepreneurship this week:


The Carried Interest Debate

Tay Jacobe and Jake Silberman, Research Assistants, McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

McNair’s Jacobe and Silberman analyze the ongoing discussion surrounding carried interest. A complicated concept in the financial sector, carried interest refers to the profits earned on a private investment fund that are paid to fund managers. Private investment funds include VC, PE and hedge funds.

Debate arises from carried interest’s subjection to the capital gains tax rate. The capital gains tax rate caps taxes on carried interest at 20 percent. Critics of the so-called carried interest “loophole” argue that the government should tax carried interest at the standard federal income tax rate of 39.6 percent. Supporters of maintaining the capital gains tax rate for carried interest claim that it acts as a performance incentive for fund managers.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump criticized the massive profits that investment fund managers earned from carried interest. Since taking office, President Trump has not commented on his administration’s plans for taxation on carried interest. The House Republican’s 2016 Tax Reform Proposal proposes a “reduced but progressive” capital gains tax on carried interest. As Jacobe and Silberman note, such a plan would likely cause fund managers’ net incomes to go up.


Looking Forward: Why the VC Industry Needs More Female Investors

Dana Olsen, Reporter, PitchBook

PitchBook’s Olsen analyzes the need for promoting gender diversity in VC firms. Despite modest gains in diversification at many VC firms, most firms are yet to make substantial change. In 2016, only 17 percent of global VC deals involved companies with female founders, while only 9 percent were female-led at the time of backing. Admittedly, these statistics reveal improvements from 2007, when these numbers stood at 7 and 6.8 percent, respectively.

According to Olsen, “the most efficient way to increase the number of female-founded companies that receive VC funding is to have more female venture capitalists.” Aileen Lee, prominent venture capitalist and founder of Cowboy Ventures, believes that “women who have more numbers on the investment team invest in more women.” Another obvious way to increase rates of female entrepreneurship is to introduce educational programs that spark girls’ interest in STEM-related fields at an early age.


A Dearth of I.P.O.s, but It’s Not the Fault of Red Tape

Steven Davidoff Solomon, Contributor, The New York Times

University of California, Berkeley School of Law’s Professor Davidoff Solomon writes for the New York Times on the recent decline in IPOs in the U.S. Many politicians point to over-regulation of the private market as an explanation, evidenced by the line of interrogation at the confirmation hearing of President Trump’s nominee to head the SEC, Jay Clayton. Since 1996, the number of publicly listed firms on the NYSE has been cut by nearly half. Furthermore, the number of IPOs has decreased from 706 in 1996 to only 105 in 2016.

Professor Davidoff Solomon proposes a number of theories for explaining the dropoff in deal-making activity – none of which involve government regulation. Firstly, Davidoff Solomon suggests that “structural changes in the market ecosystem” might be encouraging increased mergers and acquisitions in public and private markets, respectively. Alternatively, the dropoff in IPOs could potentially be caused by a decline in attractiveness of small offerings as the public. In 1996, 54 percent of new offerings were considered large, compared to only 4 percent in 2016. According to Davidoff Solomon, the “market for new issues has moved toward liquidity and bigger stocks.”


And in the Startup News…


New Clerky Tools Help Startups Hire and Raise Funds without Running into Legal Problems

Lora Kolodny, Contributor, TechCrunch

Founded in 2011, Clerky is a San Francisco-based startup that builds software to assist startups and their attorneys with legal paperwork. The startup, founded by former attorneys, focuses almost exclusively on providing legal templates and software for high-growth startups. Originally, Clerky’s services centered around helping startups incorporate their company online. Now, Clerky is looking to expand its services beyond business formation, with its latest two online tools Hiring and Fundraising.

By using Clerky, startups can spend their cash on higher level services and advice, rather than costly legal paperwork. For example, many startups spend thousands of dollars on attorney’s fees for handling seed rounds finances. With Clerky, however, companies can pay $99 in return for six months of unlimited issuances of SAFEs and convertible notes. Many of Y Combinator’s co-founders have used Clerky’s Formation tool to launch their business. Now, they can also rely on the firm’s software throughout their various growth stages and funding rounds.


Dropbox Secures $600M Credit Line with IPO on Horizon

PitchBook News & Analysis

Last week, the Weekly Roundup series covered a PitchBook article on a relatively recent trend in startup financing: debt. Debt financing is not uncommon for startups that are looking to go public. IPO are costly, and opening up lines of credit gives a company some cash without “diluting equity stakeholders.” However, many startups without IPOs in their near future are increasingly accumulating debt; according to PitchBook News and Analysis, funding rounds that were at least partially debt brought in $14 billion in deal value in 2016.

Dropbox, the latest tech unicorn to announce debt financing ahead of an upcoming IPO, is a well-known startup that provides users with cloud-based storage services. Dropbox reportedly secured the $600 million line of credit ahead of a possible offering in 2017.

With Mulesoft’s successful IPO in March, 2017 could deliver a good year for tech enterprise. Cloud-based identity management firm Otka is another enterprise tech firm set to go public within a few weeks.