In 2008, according to PWC MoneyTree and VentureXpert, Ohio moved into the top quartile, among all states, for number of venture capital deals. In 2009, Ohio moved into the Top 10. The states ahead of Ohio are: California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, New Jersey, Colorado, and Maryland. Ohio is the only Midwestern state to break into the Top 10.
As far as $$ invested, we are lower down on the list -- 21st in 2009, where historically, over 10-15 years, Ohio has ranged from 9th to 28th, averaging about 21st. In order to move up to a Top 10 spot, investors would need to more than double the amount of capital going into Ohio’s early-stage companies. Has something like this been done before? Yup: Maryland, for example, moved from 22nd in 1992 and 25th in 1993 to 8th in 2006.
So, risk-oriented investors might say, “That’s fine, Becca -- love your passion for Ohio's innovation environment -- but, um, what about returns?” My answer is that they are pretty good: an analysis done by Chrysalis Ventures shows that returns in Midwestern deals were higher than returns in every other region except California and the Southeast (where the Southeast had fewer deals than the Midwest). I have not reviewed this analysis since 2006, but even if updating shows it to have fallen, the 2006 data do show that strong returns can be generated in the Midwest -- Ohio included.
Those same risk-oriented investors might next say, “Yeah, but what about exits? As investors, we know, obviously, returns are a sign of exits, but still, how about stories: do you have great stories of exits, stories that capture the imagination and define a region? Where’s your Google? Your Amgen?”
OK, I have to admit: you got me there. We do not have many of those tales of Stanford PhDs or MIT wunderkinds
opening up entirely new industries and IPO’ing five nanoseconds later, and let's face it: those are fun, iconic tales that generated great returns and
captured the imagination. But, here is the good news. An analysis I recently saw showed that Ohio entrepreneurs and investors are actually quite good at something that may be emerging as an enduring investment thesis in the venture industry: entrepreneurs raising money in a capital efficient manner from smaller funds and growing solidly and well to provide those funds with nice returns, IRRs that are above-equity-stock-indices-and-above-venture-IRRs-as-a-whole-but-(admittedly)-no-Google/Amgen.
I cannot, alas, offer here the details of this analysis because the person who conducted it is a trusted Ohio investor who was able to get many of his peer investors to offer up information that they requested not be made public. But I can, for illustrative purposes, offer up names of some of the companies whose exits were public domain and that collectively make the point that we do have exits, good exits, sometimes great exits, but admittedly not iconic, blockbuster exits. In IT, over the past 5-10 years, Ohio entrepreneurs and investors have seen exits from angel or venture-backed companies like Hyland, Plansoft, Brulant, Flashline, TMW Systems, Everstream, MRI, Northcoast PCS, Entek, and many more. In Healthcare, over the past handful of years, there is WholeHealth, MemberHealth, RIS Logic, Edgepark Surgical, Cleveland BioLabs, Atricure, NDI Medical, and many more. In Cleantech, of late, there is Sorbent Technologies and Solar Fields, plus others, and in Business Services, there is Flight Options, Atomic Dog Publishing, and more.
So, here is the summary of all this. Ohio is Top 10 nationwide in investment activity and Ohio’s entrepreneurial strengths are in areas where the venture industry may well be moving: Ohio growth businesses and entrepreneurs are capital efficient and, among states, Ohio is among the leaders on consistently starting strong, high growth businesses that pragmatically solve a certain problem in the world, grow quickly, and generate solid returns. This entrepreneurial mindset, or strategy, if you want to call it that, offers an outsized return to investors as shown by the Chrysalis analysis. The entrepreneurs who led these businesses are adept at growing more of these types of businesses as CEOs, serial entrepreneurs, angel investors, and board members.
These are all reasonable strengths to build on. With a lot of effort, which is what anything worth doing takes, we could become a Top 5 state in venture activity (deals, not dollars, given the more capital efficient nature of Ohio growth stories). Wouldn’t that be great?
That's not a rhetorical question, because I guess what I want to know is this: is this compelling? Is the paucity of iconic IPOs that capture the imagination, even if IRRs for investments in Ohio early-stage companies are collectively as strong as or better than elsewhere in the U.S. and the venture industry as a whole, a deal-killer (literally)? It strikes me and many successful Ohio entrepreneurs I speak with that it should not be.
While "should not be" is not a strategy that will make quantum leaps in capital formation and high growth entrepreneurship, IRR is.
Becca Braun is a past president of JumpStart Ventures. She founded and led a number of early-stage companies and organizations, as well as worked as a private equity investor and management consultant. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her BA in Linguistics from Harvard University. She is keenly interested in the intersection of wealth creation and broad-based regional economic growth.