Warning: My words are typed during a major financial crisis, budget shortfall and likely layoffs.
Time to invest.
New York City recently announced the creation of a $22,000,000 venture fund to attract tech companies. It has already worked. Sorry, Jersey City. Why did it work? Because one of the biggest obstacles entrepreneurs face is access to capital.
Here is how the NY program is funded: NYC put in $3M and FirstMark Capital ponied up $19M. Not a bad place to start.
Sitting in today's meeting I sent @CityofFresno a tweet to try and test the waters. The response was accurate: we do not have the same resources at NYC, but we do care about local business.
The fact of the matter is this: Money is attractive.
My bar napkin proposal: $10M fund. City pledges $1M and outside Venture Capital firm allocates $9M.
This could actually work because in a big picture, the City is assuming very little share of the overall risk.
Scenario #1: Entrepreneur needs $500,000
First of all, the entrepreneur needs to raise 20% of the round through personal networks (self, family, friends, etc.) to show active "skin in the game." In this scenario that is $100,000. This is one step in unlocking the door to capital.
Second, for every dollar of "the fund" that is to be accessed, three dollars from outside the fund must come to the table. This can be in the form of other other VC or Angel groups. It is not uncommon for a round to be funded by more than one source...shared risk and collective expertise. In this scenario, this means that $300,000 is provided by an outside fund or investor (not family/friends/etc).
Finally, "the fund" would provide the remaining capital to finish out the round. In this case, $100,000 (remember, every dollar from "the fund" must be matched with $3 from the outside).
Given that the City originally contributed only 10% of the total fund, the City's share of the $100,000 investment is only $10,000. So, does it make since for the City to invest $10,000 to help deliver $500,000 to an early-stage business?
The Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech uses a similar 1 for 3 model. When I listened to them make a presentation at a conference a couple of years ago, they mentioned that the reality is that every $1 invested has attracted nearly $30 in outside investment.
I know the naysayer will claim that the City of Fresno should not be in the investment business. I get that, but I also challenge that. Every budget dollar is in a sense an investment. The money being spend for the development of a specific plan, is an investment. The City would have a voice as it relates to go or no-go on an investment. The good news is that the $1M would be invested very slowly.
One hundred $10,000 investments (using the math above) could represent $50,000,000 of total investment in early stage businesses. Jeeze, even if every business failed, the City spent $1M to get $50M spent in the community. That's a successful failure.
Share your thoughts? I'd really like to hear form elected officials, candidates and economic development professionals.
If we let Water, Energy and Technology companies know that there is money available, would they come.
Instead of asking if we have the resources or don't have the resources, let's ask a different question: In what ways can we make something like this work?