A roomful of audience members in UCSB’s Corwin Pavillion held up their hands when venture capitalist Keval Desai asked how many of them were hoping to fund new companies within the next year even though Randy Churchill of Pricewaterhouse Coopers told them that 16 venture deals — far less than the number of raised hands — had been signed in the tri-counties so far this year.
Still, hope sprang eternal at a recent event cohosted by the MIT Central Coast Enterprise Forum and UCSB’s Technology Management Program called the “Raising Venture Capital: Some of the Important Rules Have Changed.”
And the news from presenters was not all doom and gloom. Despite high unemployment and uncertainty creating an environment in which deal terms tend to favor investors rather than entrepreneurs, those market conditions mean that venture capitalists are on the prowl.
Moreover, as Desai — a graduate of UCSB and partner at Silicon Valley VC firm, InterWest Partners — pointed out, the costs of launching a tech company are lower than they’ve ever been. “Moore’s law has come to entrepreneurship,” he said, referencing the rule of thumb attributed to Intel cofounder Gordon E. Moore, who hypothesized more or less correctly in 1965 that the data capacity of a silicon chip would double every two years.
That same capacity, which has revolutionized computing over and over, has also slashed the need for capital and allowed tech startups to test their products on the fly. Desai pointed out that Gillette invested $1 billion in the Mach 3 razor before bringing it to market while the Google founders spent just a tiny fraction of that before introducing what would become the most dominant technology company on the planet.
This news may not have been especially welcoming to those not working in the three fields most attractive to venture capitalists: life sciences, energy, and software. One man who paid the $40 entrance fee for the event looking to find financing to market a material he designed that can seal leaks in oil wells — a product that BP might have found useful a year and a half ago — complained that at some point investors stopped staking a claim in products and started making loans instead.
Lance Helfert, cofounder and president of Montecito-based West Coast Asset Management, a private equity investment firm, did not exactly confirm this inventor’s claims, but he did say that he did his utmost to hedge his investment when taking on a new business. Therefore, he warned entrepreneurs to cross their t’s and dot their i’s, make sure their business plans prioritize liquidity, and not to overestimate revenue. In order to impress the hands-on nature of his investing style, he featured a PowerPoint slide quoting a fortune cookie he once ate that read, “Eyes believe what they see, ears believe others.”
The event was the first in a joint venture between the MIT Central Coast Enterprise Forum and UCSB Technology Management Program. Peter Hartman, chairman of the forum, said that there are a lot of great entrepreneurship organizations in town, but they don’t cooperate enough.
“We want to bring in a younger crowd and expand our events to younger people in the community,” said Forum Marketing Chair Kyle Ashby. “UCSB is the best place for that.”
Ashby added that, in the near future, a some UCSB professors will sit on the forum board while forum members will mentor UCSB students.