Who fuels the venture capital business? The structure of venture capital sources is highly country-specific, which is a consequence of the peculiarities of the legislative regulation of different states and the norms that have taken root in the financial sector.
According to US statistics, these are primarily pension funds, which received in 1979 the right to invest a very limited part of their funds in investment projects with a high degree of risk. Since then, pension funds have become America's most stable source of risk capital, accounting for nearly half of all new inflows, helped in no small part by current income tax incentives.
Industrial and trade corporations, insurance companies, various funds also occupy a stable place among the sources of venture capital. Individuals play a prominent role in the US venture capital business. In addition to material interest, often the motivation for them is the desire to support their relatives or just acquaintances of entrepreneurs starting a new business. The terms of assistance may in the latter case be less rigid and more favorable than those of organized venture business professionals. Probably because of this, large individual investors of risk capital have been dubbed “angels” in the business environment. It should also be noted that in the second half of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, a significant proportion of funds to American venture funds came from foreign, in particular, Japanese investors (annually from about 10% to 15%).
In Western European countries, the list of participants in venture funds is somewhat wider. It is supplemented by government agencies, commercial and clearing banks, universities and other sources. The most characteristic feature of the countries of Western Europe in comparison with the USA is the higher share of banking structures in the venture capital business. For example, in Germany, banks accounted for more than half of all risk capital operating in the country in the mid-1990s. This partly explains the predominant orientation of Western European investors towards more traditional and less risky entrepreneurial projects.
It is necessary to highlight the participation in the venture business of large industrial companies. Many of them are interested in using risk financing mechanisms not to generate additional income, which is in any case incomparable with the income from their main production activities, but, first of all, to achieve the goals of the scientific and technological development strategy chosen in modern conditions.
Contributing relatively small funds to the development of new projects of small innovative firms, large companies gain access to new technology and at the same time can afford to postpone the organization of similar research and development in their own laboratories for the time being. This is an important circumstance, given that R&D spending by many of the largest American, Japanese, and Western European companies has already exceeded $1 billion a year.
It is also necessary to take into account the fact that large companies are forced to keep track of new promising developments in the field of small business. Otherwise, potential competitors can suddenly take advantage of them and this will undesirably upset the equilibrium that has developed in the market at the moment.
There are three main organizational forms of risky investments, which are mainly used by large industrial corporations.
The first is direct venture financing of small innovative firms. As noted above, this form involves the greatest financial risk, but also promises a higher return, whether it be the size of the acquired block of shares or the opportunity to gain further control over the new firm in the event of commercial success or technological breakthrough. This organizational form of venture business was widely used in the second half of the 70s by large chemical and pharmaceutical companies to support projects of new firms specializing in the use of genetic engineering methods in the field of biotechnology.
The second form provides for the creation of a quasi-independent subsidiary venture fund at the expense of the corporation. Its managers are employees of the corporation or are hired from among qualified specialists in the field of venture business. Along with certain advantages, this path creates some additional problems for the corporation. Given the relative autonomy of a venture fund, careful coordination of its investment policy with the strategic course of the corporation's development is required. Sometimes there are difficulties with the choice between alternative investment projects. In addition, the parent company is often forced to provide various types of assistance to small firms created with the financial participation of a subsidiary fund.
Finally, the third main form of participation of large companies in the venture business is the entry as a limited partner. Tew to those "independent" in American terminology venture funds that are created and managed by professionals in risky investments. This form does not require large investments and management skills specific to this type of activity. At the same time, it facilitates access to the developments of 10-15 small firms supported by each fund and, in addition, makes it possible to keep abreast of those projects that are considered, but then, for various reasons, are rejected by venture fund managers. In addition, corporations have the opportunity to get to know the business qualities of individual managers, scientists, engineers or inventors in order to lure some of them into their scientific laboratories and production units. The disadvantage of this organizational form of risky investments from the point of view of a large company is its passive nature. The possibilities of intervention in the activities of a venture fund are limited by the framework of participation in a partnership, which does not allow to properly control the investment policy of managers.