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Thursday, December 2, 2010

South African VC Numbers Increasing

From an entrepreneurial perspective, few things are more refreshing than to hear of the increasing amount of venture capital deals investing in business plans in South Africa in recent months. With a large amount of business investors already being active in the country entrepreneurs looking to fund their business plans will take heart from the fact that despite the slow down in bank lending VC's are filling the gap.

Following a a recent article in The global recession is probably the best thing that could have happened to the local venture capital sector. Under pressure to rebuild their portfolios, global funders and wealthy locals are now redirecting money towards the sector as an alternative investment that promises higher yields.
The global recession wiped out millions from individual portfolios and the number of dollar millionaires fell by more than 11%, according to the 2010 Knight Frank Wealth Report. With trading conditions in global markets still uneasy, overseas funders are now willing to take on more risk for bigger rewards and are investing in businesses that can demonstrate growth.
PoweredbyVC, a fund manager that manage s Internet billionaire Mark Shuttleworth’s HBD Venture Capital, is in negotiations with several foreign funders to provide venture capital for business start- ups. Its executive director, Keet van Zyl, declines to name them.
Venture capital is seen as risky because investors don’t know who they’re taking a gamble on, and they have to wait at least five years to get returns. The yields, however, are generally better than those gleaned on the general market, which has been patchy since the financial crisis. Investors can expect a minimum annual return of 20% from a venture capital fund. By comparison the R157 bond had a yield of 14,6% for the year, in a favourable bond market.
SA Venture Capital & Private Equity Association (Savca) executive head JP Fourie says a move into riskier investments in uncertain times is not unusual. As the economy contracts, investors start looking for alternative investments because traditional portfolios are underperforming. A soft economy also plays some role in driving innovation. “Investment patterns regarding venture capital appears to be contra cyclical,” Fourie says — when the market is down, you buy and when the market is up, you sell.
With funders lining up — for example, an individual who wants to invest up to R20m in start-ups — the venture capital industry should add to the momentum it has steadily been building since the 2001 dot-com crash.
There are now 10 venture capital funds — up from five a few years ago — which have invested R2,6bn over the past 10 years. A Savca report, to be released at month-end, has found that the 33 funds surveyed had completed 251 venture capital transactions between 2000 and July 2010, of which about a third were concluded in 2008 . Some of the funds surveyed don’t exist anymore, and some are run by large corporations that are not members of Savca.
Ploughing money into venture capital funds requires bravery and patience, however. Such a fund puts together a portfolio of about 10 start-up businesses, which might fail or plod along over five to 10 years. The one or two companies that do perform exceptionally are either sold or listed. This is when the investor gets a return.
The local venture capital industry’s return on investment has yet to be established, because investors have not exited their investments. But that could change soon . PoweredbyVC is looking to exit two . Its portfolio includes the highly rated mobile payment provider Fundamo and Internet marketing group Clicks2Customers. Fundamo CEO Hannes van Rensburg declines to comment on whether his company is for sale.
Wealthy individuals are not being scared away by the long periods it takes for a fund to exit an investment. Over the past year PoweredbyVC has been approached by at least 30 people willing to invest R1m and more in new ventures.
These investors also take a hands-on approach . Many are retired executives and business owners with some free time who come in as consultants to the new ventures .
Demand by these wealthy people has been so huge, PoweredbyVC will be launching an “angel” investment fund to support businesses in the early stage of development.
But those with funding proposals should not think the new wave of local funders will be sugar daddies who can easily be tapped for cash. “It’s not an angel lottery. They are quite savvy,” says Van Zyl. He says that in addition to the growth in funders, there has also been a spurt in funding proposals.
But the increase in proposals does not necessarily mean more ideas will be taken up, because there is often a lack of experience when it comes to turning the concepts into products. Van Zyl cites the example of a 26-year-old “who had a fantastic [concept] but no idea how to commercialise it”.
Cape Town and Stellenbosch, in particular, have become home to many of these new funds. Hasso Plattner Ventures Africa was established two years ago, 4Di Capital was set up with funding from Johann Rupert a year ago and Invenfin was spun out of Remgro, also a Rupert group. The Savca survey found that Cape Town received more venture capital money than Johannesburg or Pretoria. Other funds, like HBD and Bioventures, have been going for even longer.
The Cape does not have a monopoly on venture capital funds, though. The Industrial Development Corp has set up its own fund, and it and Triumph Venture Capital are based in Johannesburg.
The optimism in the sector is palpable. “If I were a highly qualified person in banking and finance, I would be here [in venture capital],” says 4Di Capital CEO Justin Stanford.
The sector might be back in vogue, but it has been criticised for not embracing riskier ventures because the people managing these funds came from a banking or an accounting background and do not fully grasp what it takes to start a business. Van Zyl admits there is some truth to this. “You can see that by the lack of failure. Investments are doing fairly well, or just surviving.” By comparison, about half of all venture capital projects in the US fail.
But having a background in banking or accounting does not necessarily make a fund manager overcautious. “I left banking because I got tired of saying no to good deals,” says Invenfin CEO Brett Commaille.
Though the sector is blossoming, the old bugbear of exchange controls hangs over it . Shuttleworth has long crusaded for exchange controls to be relaxed, and recently asked for a judicial review on the constitutionality of their mechanisms . Shuttleworth, who made US$575m selling his company Thawte to US firm VeriSign, argues that the controls burden entrepreneurs who want to expand abroad because there seems to be a “random process” at the Reserve Bank for allowing money out of the country. Shuttleworth emigrated to the UK in 2001, and says living there gives him the flexibility to move small amounts of money around the world.
Fourie also says exchange controls are a problem, as they prohibit the existence of a “loop structure”, preventing South Africans from having holdings in a foreign entity that in turn has a holding in SA. This makes it difficult for small companies that are rapidly expanding globally to transfer cash. Some local business owners have sold their holdings prematurely as a result.