Category Archives: Venture Capital

Summer’s over, but it feels a little like Spring

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Editor’s note: This is a cross post from Let the Sparks Fly! written by Mark Skapinker. It is a delightfully positive outlook on the prospects for the Canadian startup union. Mark is Cofounder and Managing Partner at Brightspark, which earlier this week was awarded CVCA’s deal of the year award.

Normally this is the time of the year that really stresses me out. It is late September in Ontario, summer is over, the leaves are starting to change colour, and while it is still pretty nice out, it’s real clear that it is downhill from here to winter, with warm days more than seven months away.

But something in the local tech industry feels a little different, and it feels like things are getting better. Some of us have been lamenting the state of the Canadian VC industry for years now, and Rim’s woes should by all rights make the local scene seem even bleaker – but people in the industry don’t seem to be listening. A whole lot of activities that are happening seem to signal an awakening spring and everyone seems just a little more optimistic.

Of note are more entrepreneurs pitching really interesting offerings. I keep meeting Canadian entrepreneurs with great ideas, great opportunities and a yearning for success.

Surrounding that are a number of exits from local companies – most notably (for the industry and especially for us at Brightspark, where we saw more than a 23X return on our investment) is the Radian6 sale to Salesforce.com. This exit proved that great, money-making businesses can be hatched in Canada with local talent, local VCs and a positive outcome for the local economy. Add to that a series of other small acquisitions along with some interesting exits.

And then there are the new micro-funds which are growing despite the stalling of the traditional industry, with experienced and talented managers helping a new series of companies – I am referring to our colleagues – Duncan and Robin at Mantella; Matt at GoldenVP; the teams at Xtreme, bnotions and Real Ventures; Daniel at Klass Capital; Bill Dinardo; and Joel at Trilogy; all who are making a very meaningful difference to our industry. MaRS is expanding, IAF is investing, I hear some traditional Canadian VCs may be finalizing new funds, and the government funds continue their part in providing capital.

We aren’t out of the woods yet, but it definitely feels like now is a great time to be part of the Internet, software, mobile, Cloud, and payment industries. Markets are growing, and these industries are creating value while the rest of the economy questions itself. If this really is a marathon, now is a great time to be heading out.

If we can keep up this momentum and deliver a few more winners, we may look back at this time as the period when the new Canadian industry started thriving.

At Brightspark, we remain thrilled with our VC fund’s performance. Our multiple exits puts our performance way ahead of top quartile funds anywhere in the world. And we think the remaining companies in our portfolio have the potential of taking our fund to new levels. Our focus on investing in great teams, markets we understand, and with an early stage fund of entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs is paying off really well.

To those people who have written off our participation in the industry, we continue to focus on remaining a significant part of this industry, and we think the next few years could be very exciting for our funds and the Canadian industry.

Another Monster Raise – Paymentus Closes Big Round From Accel-KKR

Yesterday we posted about iLoveRewards closing a big growth round from Sequoia. Well today, another JLA Ventures company did a big round of growth money as well. Paymentus raised a big round from Accel-KKR, rumoured to be at $20mm. That’s $45mm in capital to two Canadian companies in a very short period of time. I imagine John Albright, @johnalbright, has enjoyed a celebratory cocktail or two after seeing two portfolio co’s do big growth rounds. Lets also not forget the story of Dushyant Sharma who looks well on his way to yet another entrepreneurial highlight reel entry. And of course big hats off to GrowthWorks for being the initial funders of this company and providing funds to Canadian companies when many others were not. PR post is here.

Paymentus Corporation, a leading electronic bill payment, presentment and customer communication technology and services company, today announced that it has received an equity investment provided by Accel-KKR, a technology-focused private equity investment firm. The investment will be used by Paymentus to accelerate development, drive growth, and enhance the footprint of its real-time payment network.

Paymentus’ unified, SaaS platform delivers enterprise bill payment, presentment and revenue management technology through a self-service model, simplifying, automating and streamlining the bill payment process.

I found an old post from Rick Segal, @ricksegal, about the initial investment JLA did in Paymentus, which I think is a valuable repetitive lesson for all entrepreneurs about how to build a big successful company (something Dushyant has done a few times now):

We invested in Paymentus for a number of reasons. Our basic business thesis was that there are a number of places where (surprisingly) automation of paying certain types of bills is still in an evolving state. Paymentus has identified a number of these market segments and came to us with some great traction, proprietary technology, tons of industry knowledge, and an impressive plan for growth.

Dushyant did all the right things as a start up. Self-funded until he hit milestones that started to prove out the business stood out to the investors as well as a very clear and deep understanding of the bill payment and presentment business.

We’ve done the list of acquisitions and celebrated, I think next up its time to tally the list of big raises, as I think there are more companies “going big” than we give credit.

Trying to understand incubator math

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jesse Rodgers who is currently the Director of Student Innovation at the University of Waterloo responsible for the VeloCity Residence & he is also the cofounder of TribeHR. Jesse specializes in product design, web application development and emerging web technologies in higher education. He has been a key member of the Waterloo startup community hosting StartupCampWaterloo and other events to bring together and engage local entrepreneurs. Follow him on Twitter @jrodgers or WhoYouCallingAJesse.com.

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Incubators are not a new addition to the financing and support for startups and entrepreneurs. On the surface, incubators and accelerators seem like a low cost way for VCs and government support organizations to cluster entrepreneurs and determine the top-notch talent out the accepted cohort. The opportunity to investing in real estate and services that enable companies where the winners are chosen by the merits of the businesses being built. It feels like a straight-forward, relatively safe bet to ensure a crop of companies that are set to require additional growth capital where part of the products and personalities have been derisked through process.

However, its not as simple as putting small amounts of investment into a high potential company. An incubator is a business and it’s sole purpose should be to make money.

What are the basics of an incubator?

The basic variables in setting up an incubator business are:

  • Cost of the expertise, facilities, services and other overhead
  • Amount of $ to be invested/deployed
  • Number of startups
  • Equity being given in exchange for cash
  • Return on the total investment

There are cost of operations: real estate, connectivity, marketing, programs and services for the entrepreneurs, and the salaries of the individuals to find the startups, provide the services and build successes. These costs are often covered by governments, in exchange for the impact in job creation and taxation base. We’ve seen a rise in incubators that are funded on an investment thesis, where an individual or a set of “limited partners” provide the initial investment in exchange for an investment in the companies being incubated.

How much do incubators cost?

The goal is to efficiently deploy capital to produce successful investments. I’m going to explore how incubators make money by making a few assumptions based on the incubator/accelerator models we’ve seen in Toronto, Montreal, Palo Alto and New York.

Basic assumptions:

  • Capital Investments: 10 startups x 20k = 200k invested with an assumed ‘post-money valuation’ of $2.2MM
    • This means you now own 9.1% in 10 startups each with a post-money valuation of $220k
  • Support Costs: 10 startups x $10k = $100k
    • This is the cost of real estate, furniture, telecommunications, internet connectivity, etc.

Alright, we’re planning to deploy $200k and it need to provide approximately $100k in services just to provide the basics for the startups. We’ve spent $300k for the first cohort and and that is before you pay any salaries, host an event, etc.

Additional costs:

  • People:
    • $100k per year salary for one person to rule them all. Call them executive director or dean or something.
    • Assuming you’re not doing this to deploy your own capital, the person or people in charge probably need to collect a salary to pay their mortgages, food, etc.
  • Events - Following the model set forth by YCombinator or TechStars we have 2 main types of events. Mentoring events where the cohort is exposed to the mentors and other industry luminaries to help them make connections and learn from the experience of others. The other event is a Demo Day, designed to bring outside investors and press together to drive investment and attention in the current cohort, plus attract the next cohort of startups.
    • Mentoring event: $1k for food costs with 25 founders
    • Demo Day: approximately $5k
    • Assumption: 10 mentoring events plus a demo day per cohort adds $40k.

The estimated costs are approximately $340,000/cohort. Assuming 2 cohorts/year plus the staffing salary costs, an incubator is looking at $780,000 that includes 40 investments and a total of $4.4MM post-money valuation. If we assume that I’m a little off on the total capital outlay, and we build in a 30% margin of error this brings the annual budget to appromimately $1MM/year to operate.

How do incubators make money?

Incubators make money when the startups they take an equity stake in get big and successful. The best exits for an incubator come when one of their startups is acquired. Why acquired? Because the path to getting acquired path is shorter than the path to going public which would also allow the incubator to divest of their investment.

Let’s do the math. If your running an incubator hoping to get respectable returns on the $1,000,000 you’ve laid out above, let’s say it’s not the mythical 10 bagger but a more conservative 3x, the incubator needs one of the companies to exit at near $30,000,000. It can be one at $30MM or any combination smaller than that totalling $30MM. This needs to happen before any dilution and follow-on funding for your cadre of companies. You have to assuming that they can make it to acquisition on the $10,000 and services you’ve provided. For more on incubator math, check out there’s an incubator bubble and it will pop.

The bad news is that it isn’t as simple as that. Startups are not just something that exist in a vacum. There are a lot of unknown variables that can make or break an incubator.

  • percentage of startups that fail (or turn into zombies) in the first two years after investment
  • time frame return is expected
  • how many startups currently produce that kind of return annually
  • total number of startups that receive investment in any given year
  • total number of acquisitions in any given year
  • avg. number of years a startup takes to get to acquisition (because they aren’t going public)
  • avg. price a startup sells for (I bet those talent acquisitions drag the average way down)
  • what do VC’s currently spend on their deal pipeline?

It is the unknowns that are where the gamble exists. You can tweak the numbers all you would like but assume startups have a no better fail rate then any small business. The common thinking on that is 25% of businesses fail in the first year, 70% in the  first five years? If just more than half of those companies are alive in one year you are doing well. If one out of those 20 is acquired in 5 years and you get 3x return do you succeed? Do you have to run the incubator for the 5 years at $1MM/year to be able to play the odds?

Maybe this is why so many incubators focus on office space, it’s easy to show LPs what they are getting for their $5MM for 5 year investment, plus an impressive number of “new” startups that have been touched by the program (often without an exit, you know the way incubators make money).

What am I missing?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jesse Rodgers who is currently the Director of Student Innovation at the University of Waterloo responsible for the VeloCity Residence & he is also the cofounder of TribeHR. Jesse specializes in product design, web application development and emerging web technologies in higher education. He has been a key member of the Waterloo startup community hosting StartupCampWaterloo and other events to bring together and engage local entrepreneurs. Follow him on Twitter @jrodgers or WhoYouCallingAJesse.com.