Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Venture capital veteran talks start-ups

Venture capital veteran says companies and their backers rely on each other through trials and tribulations

Tony Bishop says it is crucial start-ups receive sufficient local funding which could reduce the trend of early-stage firms selling out to overseas buyers. Photo / Natalie Slade
Tony Bishop says it is crucial start-ups receive sufficient local funding which could reduce the trend of early-stage firms selling out to overseas buyers. Photo / Natalie Slade

Tony Bishop likens the relationship between venture capitalists and their portfolio companies to an "arranged marriage".

"You're going to be relying on each other and you know you're going to be having trials and tribulations that come up and challenges and disagreements," Bishop says. "Everyone wants the same thing - they want the company to succeed."

The 60-year-old is a veteran of New Zealand's venture capital scene, which is in its infancy when compared with other countries' such as the United States.

His company, Treasury Merchant Finance, partnered with Singaporean venture fund iGlobe to establish the iGlobe Treasury fund a decade ago.

The fund, backed by both the Singapore and New Zealand governments' venture investment funds, announced its first close of $30 million in 2003.

Since then it has invested in start-ups including Zephyr Technology, a developer of smart sensor fabric harnesses that monitors users' physiological status.

That company - whose technology was used to monitor the 33 miners who survived 69 days trapped beneath Chile's Atacama Desert in 2010 - began in a Papakura garage 10 years ago and is now based in the US.

The fund has also invested in Singapore-based pharmaceutical firm Lypanosys, which has developed a drug for the treatment of atopic dermatitis, a skin disorder.

Bishop says he's expecting iGlobe Treasury to make its first return in the next couple of months.

"We're going through an exit process now for one of the portfolio companies," he says, adding that he couldn't yet disclose the firm's name.

In October, Bishop's new Pan Pacific Capital fund received US$24 million from the Government-backed New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) and its Taiwanese counterpart, the National Development Fund.

The fund has also secured commitments from Asian institutional investors and is aiming to reach a total funding pool of US$70 million.

Bishop says the fund will make its first close of US$40 million during the second quarter of next year, at which time it will be ready to make investments. Potential sectors it may invest in include agritech, medical technology and healthcare.

"What we're looking for are opportunities where New Zealand has capability and we can see that partnering that through Taiwan will give us strong market entry."

Bishop said he began building a network in Taiwan four years ago and the country provided a great stepping stone for companies targeting the mainland Chinese market.

"They've got a very clear legal framework and clear foreign exchange control regulations.

"You go through a process and you're pretty much assured of approval of remittances of profits, whereas China doesn't have the same clarity around those aspects."

Bishop reckons it is crucial that New Zealand start-ups receive sufficient local funding, which could reduce the trend of early-stage firms selling out to overseas buyers.

"We're selling them out for sums of 20, 40, 50 million where if we could just grow them for another 24 months in New Zealand we could actually increase the value potentially five- to 10-fold," he said, adding that there often was not enough capital available in this country to fund that extra growth.

"You can help the company grow so far, but there's a longer timeframe involved in bringing an early-stage company out of New Zealand than there is, say, out of the US."

In the past decade more than 30 New Zealand high-tech companies have been sold to overseas buyers, according to data from the TIN100 report.

Bishop began his career in finance with the National Bank in 1970. He went on to work for other firms including Marac and NZI Securities. He got into venture capital after first becoming involved in angel investing in the mid-1990s.


Funding options

Angel groups

• Groups of wealthy individuals, often successful entrepreneurs, who band together and pool their capital and knowledge to invest in start-up companies.
• Angel groups generally invest between $200,000 and $1 million in individual start-ups.

Venture capital

• Once a start-up company is through its initial stages it may need to approach venture capital (VC) funds to secure capital.
• In New Zealand, VC funds are typically run by investment professionals with a proven track record of investing in high-growth companies.
• VC investments into companies are larger than those of angel groups, usually between $4 million and $10 million, sometimes more.
• VC funds usually steer the companies they invest in towards an eventual public listing, or sale, with the aim of providing investors with their return.

- NZ Herald

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