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An article published recently on forbes.com by Martin Zwilling highlights his recommendations for “10 calculated risks that lead to startup success”. This article, like so many others, provides some great insights for wannabe or existing founders and entrepreneurs. However, what if you’re in a business that is more capital intensive, has longer iteration cycles or addresses more complicated problems. Say, involving materials or chemistry development?

Prying Open the Licensing Toolkit

Posted by on in Venture Capital

As discussed last week in my blog entitled Add Licensing to your Business Model Toolkit, licensing is an important tool for the advanced materials start-up CEO. However as I pointed out last week, concerns about value capture and loss of market influence cannot be ignored if the goal is to build a valuable and important business capable of generating venture capital returns. Furthermore, when licensing technologies in energy or industrial markets that often place less value on IP compared to IP-centric businesses such as IT and biotech., deal creativity can be the order of the day. The four tactics described below should be considered in formulating a start-up company licensing strategy:

Venture capital investments in “hardware” companies such as advanced materials start-ups have typically focused on productization and scale-up as the key value creation activities. Partnering in the form of joint ventures, joint development or distribution agreements have traditionally been the business model of choice. Licensing models are often shunned with the argument being that you leave money on the table and your ability to influence is lost while fate is determined by corporate and market forces beyond your control. Valid points! But these issues can often be mitigated and should be weighed against the advantages of licensing, of course in the context of the market dynamics and industry structure that is faced.

Where has the vast majority of cleantech venture capital funding flowed over the last decade? The answer is "trillion dollar markets" such as electricity, fuels, chemicals and building materials. Several prominent cleantech VCs have proclaimed that the immense size of these opportunities offset the investment realities of time, significant CAPEX and entry barriers. Indeed these are massive markets that dwarf the size of cloud computing, SaaS, mobile and social media. But unlike these traditional VC segments, these are commodity markets where the public markets and corporate M&A departments are not used to paying the high margin and rapid growth multiples that have become the foundation of venture capital funding success.

The advanced materials industrial value chain incorporates activities that range from securing input materials to transformation processes into output products with all the supporting functions. Not just intermediate products for additional conversion but all the way to the final product in the hands of the end user. Primary activities include raw materials management, production processes, intermediate products and end-user products. This in turn involves a large array of support tasks, such as supplier control, product design, engineering, research and development, testing and quality management, product qualification, marketing and sales, regulatory compliance, life cycle management, and customer satisfaction. It should be noted that the concept of value chain management received a lot of attention following Michael Porter’s seminal work on "Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining superior Performance". For over a decade, Pangaea Ventures has been building advanced material startup companies and this experience has allowed us to establish some best practice approaches that include industrial value chain management.