Venture Capital at the Crossroads

Posted: 4 Nov 2009

See all articles by William D. Bygrave

William D. Bygrave

Babson College - Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship

Jeffry Timmons

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 1992


Venture capital (VC) has had a profound impact on the U.S and world economies. The landmarks of venture capitalism are the formation of the venture capital fund ARD in 1946 and the establishment of small business investment companies by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 1958. After a boom in the 1960s, the VC industry all but collapsed between 1970 and 1977. The VC industry revived in the 1980s and reached a peak in 1987 from which it declined. At the moment of its decline in 1990, the industry was radically altered and transformed and was at a crossroads from its recent shake-out. This book examines the state of the VC industry at this point in 1990, examining current trends, developments, and practices, and looking at future prospects for the industry, suppliers, and users of risk capital, as well as the nation's economy as a whole. The VC industry has been transformed by two changes. (1) New and specialized financial and investment strategies emphasize deal making, transaction crafting and closing, fee generating, and short-term gains. This "merchant capital" approach is oriented to investing in established firms, as opposed to the classic VC approach of providing equity financing in new, emerging, innovating, and technology-based firms. This change may be due to professionals entering the field from MBA backgrounds rather than business-building backgrounds. (2) The altered market has resulted in reduced opportunities, globalization, increase in available capital, and dominance of institutional money, and the VC industry is losing its classic company-building skills. The major virtue of the traditional VC industry, which has been a wellspring of innovation and great rewards, is the skills brought by the venture capitalists that add value in the firm's forming, building, and harvesting. Changes in the VC industry are seen in an explosion of investing activity, heterogeneity of industry structure, niche funds, declines in rate of return, and increased competition and shake-out. Examples of classic revolutionary industries financed by VC are the semiconductor, computer, and biotechnology industries. Some lessons from these industries are drawn. Lessons are also drawn from the case of the Winchester disc-drive industry, which represents a case of "capital market myopia." Historical VC returns have been in the 10% to 20% range, occasionally in the 20% to 30% range, and rarely higher. The main reason for the unsatisfactory returns on VC since 1983 has been the initial public offering (IPO) drought. The benefits and implications for the VC industry of syndicated investments are examined. The contribution of VC to economic development is explored in terms of internal and external factors. Some high-tech regions were not planned; some planned regional centers have failed. Three factors affect the flow of VC: investors who put up the money, entrepreneurs who form the company, and the venture capitalists. The value-added of classic VC investment lies in the guidance, contracts, know-how, and support of the backers. The relationship between the venture capitalist and management team critically affects the success of the venture. Also examined are relationships between flows of VC and public policy, capital markets, new technologies, and changes in industries. Most important in fostering VC are government policies. Since VC is vital element to entrepreneurship, the U.S. must actively foster classic venture capital by changing some national attitudes and policies in culture, education, and role of government, for which recommendations and suggestions are offered. (TNM)

Keywords: Venture capital, Startups, Venture financing, Venture capitalists, Firm growth, Economic development, Investment policies, Public policies, Management skills

Suggested Citation

Bygrave, William D. and Timmons, Jeffry, Venture Capital at the Crossroads (1992). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN:

William D. Bygrave (Contact Author)

Babson College - Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship ( email )

231 Forest Street
Babson Park, MA 02457-0310
United States

Jeffry Timmons

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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