There was a time, as recently as last summer, when becoming a venture capitalist was little more than a matter of calling yourself one and quickly raising $50 million to $100 million from institutional investors eager to ride the dot-com wave.
Now, with once-high-profile incubators and venture capitalists retrenching and in some cases even throwing in the towel one place where entrepreneurs may find needed capital is from corporate VCs.
Although Los Angeles suffers from a dearth of large corporate entities, it has a surprising number of venture funds attached to or associated with corporations. Indeed, a recent study by the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance found that the area has as many or more corporate VC offices as anywhere else in the country.
That said, some of these venture capitalists aren't making much of an impact locally. Biotechnology giant Amgen Inc., for instance, has been chided by some for not investing as much as it might on local biotechnology startups.
"(Corporate venture investment) is much less than we'd like it to be, frankly," said LARTA Chief Executive Rohit Shukla. "But there are large players here that have started to be more active in the past couple of years."
That activity can be explained in part by the recognition that corporate VCs have some advantages over independent shops. Investors and the public markets alike are no longer interested in rewarding ventures that haven't proven their ability to make money, and even those that have a clear path to profitability aren't finding much interest as the stock market tumbles. Venture capitalists backed by the resources of a larger entity can promise more stability and opportunity for a company still seeking to establish a product.
"As a corporate VC arm, vs. a private one, we can beta-test a product in a lot of different markets," said Troy Fukumoto, managing partner of SunAmerica Ventures, a subsidiary of SunAmerica Inc., the retirement asset management firm that merged with insurance and financial services giant American International Group Inc. in 1999.
"AIG is one of the largest companies in the world it's in 130 countries. We can test in any of them," Fukumoto said. "It doesn't help to test your product on six people. In this world, you don't want to diminish the (impact of) deep pockets."
SunAmerica Ventures is the largest corporate venture fund headquartered in Los Angeles. Founded in 1997, it has $850 million in assets. With that comes the patronage of SunAmerica founder Eli Broad, perhaps the city's wealthiest citizen. (Fukumoto declined to say to what extent Broad has personally invested in the venture fund.)
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