The traditional way to think of supporting entrepreneurs has been to look at their five primary needs: access to capital, finding customers, product and service development, hiring people and, eventually, an exit.
Increasingly, however, a sixth factor is coming into play: navigating big government.
From a reflexive position across much of the Anglo-Saxon world of privatisation and letting markets decide, since the days of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, has come a counterblast from the East suggesting that industrial strategies, state bailouts and national champions are important.
This week, German government-owned development bank KfW agreed to invest €300m ($339m) in CureVac, the local developer of messenger RNA (mRNA)-based drugs whose technology could also influence development of a vaccine for Covid-19.
The transaction will give KfW a stake sized at about 23% and it comes after CureVac agreed a $90m loan from the European Investment Bank in March this year, when it announced it would concentrate efforts on developing a coronavirus vaccine, following press reports that the American government had tried to invest with a view to relocating the company and its products to the US.
The geopolitical tensions bubbling away are seen across almost all technologies as innovation becomes a defining route to national prosperity. Whether this requires state management and direction is another matter.
Inclusion of state agencies is a useful part of the mix – CureVac has corporate, family and VC backers after spinning out from a university two decades ago – but as with other strategic investors, the focus on supporting the entrepreneurs is the starting point for governments, regardless of whether they eventually move abroad, sell to another business, list in another jurisdiction or supply products to the higher bidder.
It might be frustrating for countries at the individual level if decisions are made that authorities would wish to avoid, but deeper reflection on the causes of the actions almost always reveals a underlying reason that can be better treated, rather than a blanket ban. In the same way corporate venturers have learned to avoid asking for rights of first refusal and other limitations.
It is good to see governments stepping in to impact the great challenges of our time and increasingly join other venture investors in syndicates. If responsibly handled.