How public markets can help address venture capital’s limitations
British venture capital firm Draper Esprit recently moved its listing from the AIM to the main board in London, the LSE. The investing group also moved its secondary listing from Dublin’s Euronext Growth Market to its larger sister exchange, Euronext Dublin, which makes sense given its long connection to Irish capital.
Draper has always felt like something of an anomaly from our perspective, a generalist venture capital firm that was itself public. But this July, Forward Partners listed its shares on the AIM, and there are other venture firms in Europe that are also listed.
At first blush, the setup may seem odd; venture capital firms invest in companies that they hope to see go public one day — why would they float themselves? But Draper Esprit co-founder Stuart Chapman told TechCrunch in an interview that he finds it shocking “that venture capital backs some of the most mind-blowing tech advances in our history over the last 70 years, using the same legal structure as a 1958 property vehicle in New York.” It’s a reasonable point.
Perhaps fundraising success is part of why the venture model has not seen much disruption in recent decades, apart from rising fund sizes. But the model is not perfect. It can foist artificial time constraints on investors and force them to focus their deal flow into particular stages for fund-construction reasons. As we found out researching this piece, the public venture model highlights some of these limitations — and may be able to alleviate them in part.
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And yet we can’t come up with a single U.S. venture capital firm, for example, that has publicly listed in the same manner as Draper Esprit or Forward Partners.
To better understand why we’re seeing European VCs float, and not their peers in other markets, The Exchange reached out to Draper Esprit, Forward Partners, and fellow listed venture investors Mercia and Augmentum Fintech. From the group, we’ve learned that there are plenty of reasons why the model may be popular in the U.K. and not in the U.S.
But there are also reasons why being a public venture capitalist can make the VC game a rather different, longer-term effort. The firms in question did not go public on a whim.
So let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the regulatory concerning publicly listed venture capital firms. The future? Or just a regional quirk?
From exception to trend?
Following its move, Draper Esprit is now the largest “purely tech VC” listed on London’s Main Market. Its initial listing had also been a market milestone: “Listing Draper Esprit five years ago was a radical and unusual step for a venture capital business,” Chapman said of Draper’s 2016 dual-listing on London’s AIM and Dublin’s Enterprise Securities Market (ESM) — now Euronext Growth.
Just last month, two tech-related investment funds IPO’d on the London Stock Exchange: space-focused Seraphim Capital and Nic Brisbourne’s Forward Partners. In both cases, Draper Esprit was happy to assist with information, Chapman told us, adding that the firm also invested in Forward via its fund-of-funds effort.
The news adds up to a roster of listed investors that also includes fintech fund Augmentum Fintech, asset manager Mercia Asset Management PLC and intellectual property commercialization company IP Group. “We’re supportive of others following in our footsteps and we will be big fans of having much wider diversity,” Chapman told TechCrunch in an interview, which you can read in full here.
Having recently joined the club, Forward Partners’ founder and CEO Nic Brisbourne gave us a good overview of the three high-level reasons that could lead a fund to list: open opportunities to create more value from new initiatives that sit outside traditional investment capital; breaking the cycle of fundraising; and opening access to the early-stage venture capital asset class. Let’s take a closer look.
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