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June 01, 2008 (Vol. 28, No. 11)

Tips for Emerging Firms on Obtaining Funding

Strong IP Portfolio and Therapeutic Focus as well as Understanding Potential Backers Are Vital

  • To build a successful company and attract high-quality investment at every stage of growth, entrepreneurs need to have a command of the microenvironment. This includes knowing the strategic direction of their company and how it fits in the competitive landscape.

    These days, successful financing strategies require that entrepreneurs also understand the macroenvironment in which potential investors operate. This can have a significant impact on financing options and exit strategies. Understanding key trends can help entrepreneurs navigate many funding challenges.

  • VC Investmane Trends Signal a Positive Environment

    The good news is that the life science sector—the biotech and medical-device industries together—saw an all-time record for venture capital investing in 2007, with $9.1 billion in 863 deals, according to The MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

    Nearly $2.4 billion of that total was invested into 366 seed and early-stage deals. Specifically, $497 million went to 116 seed-stage firms, and nearly $1.9 billion to 205 early-stage deals nationally. This represents a 58% increase in dollars invested versus 2006, when $1.5 billion was invested into 323 deals. The medical-device subsector enjoyed a 40% increase in funding—151 deals in 2007 versus 87 in 2006—reflecting renewed interest by investors.

    Trends over the last five years also show an overall positive change.

    • The size of the average seed-stage deal has increased dramatically since 2003, from $1.5 million to over $4 million in 2007.

    • The average size of a Series A investment has also gone up during the same time period although less dramatically, from $5.2 million in 2003 to $7.5 million last year.

    • The number of seed and early-stage deals increased by 70% over the last five years.

    Investment in the life science sector for the most part is concentrated in established regional hubs. Fully 80% of all seed/start-up financing deals occur in only eight regions of the U.S.—Silicon Valley, Boston, Washington DC, San Diego, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington State. In 2007 the top three regions, Silicon Valley, Boston, and San Diego, accounted for 44% of national seed-stage investments. Silicon Valley alone accounted for 36% through 23 deals.

    Although capital is theoretically fluid, start-up capital historically stays close to the investor’s home base, reflecting the need for a close working relationship at the early stages of a company’s growth. This factor explains why so much start-up capital gravitates to the regions where venture funds are located. Entrepreneurs located in those regions are well-positioned, at least geographically, to access this capital.

    Fortunately, states, cities, and some private investors outside these hubs are beginning to recognize opportunities to mine technology in underserved venture capital markets. To target investment in these regions more effectively, angel investors are coming together as organized funds. Foundations and nonprofits are stepping in to provide capital for companies and researchers working in their disease areas. Biopharmaceutical companies such as Biogen Idec and MedImmune have established funds to complement their internal research efforts, and many large venture funds are now experimenting with accelerator models to generate deal flow.

    In addition, states throughout the country are gearing up their efforts to capture the economic benefits of the life science industry. Pennsylvania was among the first, creating the Greenhouse initiative to support preseed and seed-stage firms, coupled with a venture program for follow-on capital. Together, Pennsylvania’s three Greenhouses have invested more than $36 million into more than 133 companies and projects throughout the commonwealth. These companies have gone on to leverage an additional $887 million in capital from other sources.

  • M&A Is the Primary Exit

    Venture investors need to produce returns to their limited partners in three to five years. This is because these partners have their own liquidity requirements and they need a positive track record to raise the next fund. The exit for venture investors has historically occurred through IPOs. The IPO window has unfortunately been erratic at best for several years, with an average of only two dozen companies reaching the public markets each year since 2003.

    The diminishing utility of the public markets has been offset in part by merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, particularly by large pharmaceutical companies facing declining revenues as blockbuster drugs go off patent. Although the number of M&A events has been fairly consistent over the last five years, ranging from 40–50 deals, the dollar amounts have increased, particularly in the case of earlier-stage transactions.

    Not surprisingly then, investors are especially interested in companies working in areas that make them attractive acquisition targets. Entrepreneurs need to understand the M&A area for their products.

    The blockbuster markets that have not been fully tapped, such as Alzheimer’s disease and metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity, remain priorities for larger pharmaceutical companies in both M&A agreements as well as licensing deals. Emerging companies working in these areas are of particular interest to investors even if the products are at the preclinical stage.

    Investors have been less likely to target early-stage firms working in diseases such as oncology where efficacy data in humans is now the threshold for investment given higher product failure rates and a lack of predictive preclinical models.

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