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Novak Biddle partner: more early stage capital, but later stages consolidating

February 28th, 2012
Sean Glass

Sean Glass

By Allan Maurer

Low interest rates don’t do much for a bank account, and that has had one good effect, says Sean Glass, partner with Novak Biddle Venture Partners. “There is more early stage capital around than ever because of the rate environment,” he says.

“When you have really low interest rates, people will take more risk with their portfolio. So there are a lot of angel investors who wouldn’t be in other times. More money available means more investors get a shot at it (creating a successful startup).”

That view contrasts somewhat with those of Jim Jaffe, president and CEO of the National Association of Seed and Venture Captialists (NASVF), who told us that the seed level funding of $100,000 to about $1.5 million can still be the “Valley of Death,” for many startups needing outside backing.

At SEVC this week

Both Glass and Jaffe are among the dozens of investors, entrepreneurs and 60 presenting companies participating in the Southeast Venture Conference in Tysons Corner, VA, Wednesday and Thursday (Feb. 29-March 1).

Glass, who is also founder and CEO of Employ Insight, and a founder and executive board member of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, says that while more early stage capital may be available, the flipside is that “We’re seeing a consolidation of late Series A rounds to mezzanine money”(often the final large round before an IPO or other exit).

“So,” says Glass, “We’re seeing a lot of entrepreneurs get started, but it’s getting harder to land that next round. They have to show traction a bit faster.” That contrasts with several years ago when companies that got seeded were fairly sure of a next round, he adds.

Glass says that signs the economy is getting better may not be such great news for entrepreneurs. “You would think it would be good for them, but it’s bad, because all of a sudden investors have alternatives with equal returns and less risk. It will take money away from the process.”

Glass says other changes are at work in the venture-backed startup economy.

Americane Entrepreneurs building a company now, for instance, “Will probably have to compete with someone outside the U.S., not just from firms in Boston and Silicon Valley. They may see competition from London, Rio, Santiago, and maybe Beijing. That’s why Groupon had to start going international early on, making sure it could win those markets.”

Pinterest could have done without so much early press

That means getting attention early on may not be the best thing for some companies. “My friend, the founder and CEO of Pinterest (Ben Silbermann) says he wishes the press hand’t started writing about them for another 12 to 18 months,” because the competition comes out of the global arena so quickly. “That makes it harder to build a new Facebook or Twitter,” says Glass.

Glass also says that many tech entrepreneurs don’t understand that many businesses may have good but limited potential. “A lot of tech startups can build nice $10 million to $15 million businesses but will never hit the scale needed to impact a venture firm’s portfolio.”

Businesses that do interest venture firms, he notes, “Need a large amount of capital to produce lots of profits quickly.”

Glass says entrepreneurs who can find a niche and build a company in a way larger firms can’t because they’re not geared to doing new things are going to “Get paid, because those big companies have cash and they want to buy growth.”

So, he says, “There will be options for exits and expect to see a lot of merger and acquisition opportunities.”

Interviewed by phone while in the Florida Keys, Glass says he sees evidence of an improving economy there. “There are people on the streets, restaurants are full, and the marina is full of boats – and they’re big boats.”

Glass says he’s looking forward to attending the SEVC, one of, if not the largest Mid-Atlantic venture event, this week. ”



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