In Churchill’s history of The Second World War he wrote of his emotions upon hearing that Japan had attacked US forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that only “silly people, and there were many,” underestimated American strength.
For him, the entry of the US into the war meant that the ultimate outcome—favourable for his countries (his mother was American and father British)—was now assured. Feeling “the greatest joy” that the attack had arrayed the US on the side of Britain, he “went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful”.
An alliance can alter the balance of power. In the 15 years since Henry Chesbrough published in Harvard Business Review the theory of open innovation the impact has been enormous.
Companies spend more time thinking about the potential changes and disruption happening externally and their responses. And even if research and development budgets still dwarf the resources allocated to startups – Battery Ventures noted Amazon and Alphabet’s combined R&D spend last year was $39.2bn compared to global venture investments in software of $32bn, corporate venturing has become more strategic as a way to hedge bets. It is, hence, more important to companies and one signal to this is the increasing numbers of CVC leaders, such as Sue Siegel (now ranked second), Vanessa Colella and Busy Burr, being promoted to chief innovation officer or combining the venture role with other innovation tools or functions, such as mergers and acquisitions.
Florian Reuter, CEO of Intel Capital’s portfolio company Volocopter, said at the corporate venturing unit’s global summit this month that the flying cars maker’s founders had tried to effectively create a whole new category of travel by coming to the industry as software engineers rather than domain experts.
Within three years, if regulatory approval granted as expected, then mobility as a service could see it as easy to fly from an airport into the centre of a city in 30 minutes for the cost of a taxi but in less time, Reuter said. Volocopter is among several startup initiatives being tried, including another Intel Capital portfolio company, Joby, as well as Tencent-backed Lilium, JetBlue-backed Zunum and Uber’s Elevate project.
In 2011 for his manifesto, What Happened to the Future, investor Peter Thiel drily noted: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters [Twitter’s messaging limitation at the time].”
Inside a decade, Thiel might have his wish but through collaboration between startups and large corporations.
And it is worth looking more closely at the collaboration between corporations inside syndicates as much as between them and startups. As the leaders of the GCV Powerlist 100 show, the next step in the industry is now coming as much from the leaders thinking about their syndicates with each other as with whether or how to convince management to invest in startups and how to do so as this battle has effectively already been won over the past five or so years.
To take Joby as an example. As well as Intel Capital, its syndicate for the $100m B round earlier this year included JetBlue Technology Ventures and Toyota AI Ventures, the respective corporate venturing subsidiaries of airline JetBlue Airways and automotive manufacturer Toyota. Joby’s round came days after jet charter service Victor raised $18m in a round co-led by oil major BP Ventures and aviation services provider BBA, while Volocopter (parent company E-Volo) in November had Intel and car maker Daimler in its syndicate. Lilium is backed by Tencent and, in an irony Thiel would perhaps appreciate, Twitter co-founder Ev Wililams’s venture firm, Obvious Ventures.
Boeing and JetBlue are backing Zunum Aero, while the UberAir subsidiary of the ride-hailing service backed by Softbank, Didi Chuxing and a host of other corporations invited a host of suppliers to its Elevate summit in Los Angeles this month.
Startups have long understood the power of diversity among their investors to meet their five primary needs of capital, customers, product development, hiring and an exit. Why have just one corporate venture in a round if you can have several if they bring complementary resources to meet these needs or reduce signalling risk in event of longer-term divergence on financial and/or strategic goals?
What has been less clear is how corporations understand how they work with each other to source deals and help portfolio companies. One of the quantitative metrics used to rank the GCV Powerlist is number of coinvestors but in submissions even large CVC units often lack the data (GCV Analytics calculates it regardless but submissions validates the data and signals their understanding of its importance).
One group, however, that has clearly thought hard about this area of investing is one of the oldest and largest, Intel Capital.
What is informally known at Intel Capital as the “Wendell doctrine” has the president of Intel Capital ask its entire team to think about how it partners with other corporations. He describes the doctrine as “we are better when we work together”. (Another part of the doctrine looks at the diversity angle behind forming CVC teams internally through hiring and investment syndicates.)
In part this is a logical response to the changed venture investment landscape through the rise of particularly Asia-based corporate venturing leaders, such as Softbank, Tencent and Alibaba, over the past few years.
Intel Capital put out more money than almost ever before last year with $690m but Softbank through its near-$100bn Vision Fund seemingly does that in almost every deal. Tencent reinvests practically all its net income in venturing and is now reaping the rewards with paper returns of about $14bn from a handful of flotations last year and at least that to come this year if its pipeline holds.
Table stakes for the best entrepreneurs have just become larger and investors are having to respond or miss out – Tencent’s main corporate venturing backer, Naspers has finally just sold 2% of the company to realise $10bn to reinvest in the next generation or avoid being washed out in future rounds for its existing holdings, such as India-based retailer Flipkart, which Walmart has just agreed to buy majority control at more than $20bn in enterprise value.
Softbank built its Vision fund off long-term, successful dealmaking (primarily investing in Alibaba) then bringing in outside investors as debt to magnify the equity returns. Tencent, modelling Naspers’ own strategy, has already built perhaps the preeminent network or ecosystem of portfolio companies as coinvestors inside China and partly through the GCV Leadership Society developing its international one.
Wendell Brooks’s response, therefore, to focus on partnership to leverage its strength is smart. Tasking Bryan Wolf from its five-man investment committee and industry leader Lee Sessions, who had developed the Intel Capital Global Summit and demo days into a unique opportunity for startups to meet intel’s customers, creates a senior leadership to scale the idea and create more proactive dealflow and understanding of who brings what value to the group.
Venture has traditionally relied on personal connections or meeting at the door of the portfolio company through chance to form syndicates. Institutionalising the process and connections between CVCs fits corporations’ often-international mandates and process-driven strengths.
As GCV said at its Global Corporate Venturing and Innovation Summit in January to nearly 700 attendees representing corporations with aggregate annual revenues of $6 trillion, the industry is moving from effectively village capital – local, small scale and investing in college roommates – to city-scale: international, large rounds and heterogenous.
Or as Brooks said in presenting Sessions and Wolf and the concept to the 90 or so peer CVCs attending its summit: “Financial VCs are scared; they do not like corporations working together as we can add more [to the entrepreneur] than just helping it hire a chief accounting officer. They cannot win.”
Ultimately, strength can come through diversity when allied to common goals and transparent communication.
So while the past two year’s winners, Jeffrey Li at Tencent and Rajeev Misra at Softbank, remain vital and powerful forces, as judged by the GCV Powerlist 100, their own responses to the alliances model being developed by Intel will be interesting to see.
For its part, the GCV Leadership Society is developing its Analytics and communications platform to support any and all such collaboration and deal syndication opportunities.
The GCV platform offers metrics for showing to existing and prospective portfolio companies how its CVC investors are helping them.
The Collaboration and Deal Syndication Platform (CDSP) will initially have GCV Leadership Society (LS) members be notified when portfolio companies reach a certain time milestone without appearing to have raised a subsequent round or event (eg exit).
This notification in the platform will say: “GCV Analytics data shows X portfolio company has reached its 18-month milestone without a subsequent round so we want to give you an opportunity to show its thought-leadership to the community and so potentially develop new customers and suppliers, attract staff and deepen its syndicate if a future round of funding is needed or explore its exit options.
“If this process has already been completed or is well in hand or the company is not considering this option then congratulations. If you do want to consider adding another corporate relationship for your portfolio then one option is to look for investors that have done or are considering deals in a similar subsector so here are some curated leads from your peers you can message privately. You control who is invited in and how much information they receive and through GCV’s events around the world in California, London and Hong Kong we can arrange in-real-life (IRL) personal meetings between you to build the relationship further.”
If there is anything we can help with about the CDSP platform or your own collaboration initiatives, please let me know as we are, to paraphrase Churchill and in thanks to Brooks and the other members of the GCV Leadership Society, more at the end of the beginning than the beginning of the end in this process.
At our May Symposium in London, Global Corporate Venturing runs the Powerlist of the top 100 heads of corporate venturing units out of the 2,200 globally we cover.
These are celebrated at an awards dinner at the Shard, Europe’s tallest building, sponsored by GE Ventures.
We use a number of metrics for selecting the Powerlist, including the GCV Power Index, which looks at eight metrics from our GCV Analytics<http://gcvanalytics.com/> ‘insights as a service’ data platform (see below).
In addition, we look for strategic and leadership measures, such as thought-leadership, vision and motivational abilities, including who from the team was part of our Rising Stars <http://www.globalcorporateventuring.com/pages/global-corporate-venturing-rising-stars-awards-2018.html> awards selected in January at our sold-out GCVI Summit<http://www.gcvisummit.com/> in California.
Strategic and Leadership measures:
The eight metrics used for the financials KPI to form the GCV Power index are:
For all Power Index metrics, the highest scoring organization is given a score of 100 for that metric – All others’ scores are normalized by that top scorer.
A simple average of all eight scores is used to determine an organization’s overall power ranking.
Whenever filters are applied (such as for a specific country), the numbers are calculated for that subset of data, including the normalization values.
To read the 100 profiles online please click here. Subcribers can download the full pdf here.