Genetically Engineered: Why Some Venture Capital Firms Are More Successful Than Others

By Walske, Jennifer M.; Zacharakis, Andrew | Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Genetically Engineered: Why Some Venture Capital Firms Are More Successful Than Others


Walske, Jennifer M., Zacharakis, Andrew, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice


While venture capital has received a tremendous amount of attention, prior research has predominantly looked at venture capital firms (VCFs) post raising their first fund. In this paper, we move the point of analysis back further and ask what type of founding team experience best predicts VCF success, controlling for firm strategy, firm size, and the environment upon which the firm was born. Empirical results show that venture capital, senior management, and consulting experience aids VCF success, while entrepreneurial experience impedes it. None of the control variables affect a VCF's ability to raise subsequent funds.

Introduction

Venture capital is the "fuel" for high-growth firms, especially in the United States. While entrepreneurial firm survival is tenuous at best, those funded by venture capitalists (VCs) have higher survival rates than those that are not (Kunkel & Hofer, 1990; Sandberg, 1986). Reflecting its overall importance to entrepreneurship, venture capital has received considerable academic attention. Research has examined how VCs select their investments (e.g., MacMillian, Siegel, & Subba Narashima, 1985; Tyebjee & Bruno, 1984; Zacharakis & Meyer, 2000), syndicate their investments (e.g., Brander, Amit, & Antweiler, 2002; Bygrave, 1987; Lerner, 1994; Sorensen & Stuart, 2001), negotiate and value investment contracts (e.g., Cornell & Shapiro, 1988; Norton & Tenenbaum, 1993; Wright & Robbie, 1998), monitor their investments (e.g., Davila, Foster, & Gupta, 2003; Gorman & Sahlman, 1989; Hellmann & Puri, 2002), and facilitate liquidity events (e.g., Cumming & Macintosh, 2003; Shepherd & Zacharakis, 2001). However, the majority of venture capital research assumes that the venture capital firm (VCF) is in place. To date, there has been scant research on nascent VCFs, with prior research using qualitative samples (Burton & Scherschmidt, 2004). Given the number of new entrants in venture capital, (1) we believe that this topic warrants further study. We argue that just as the businesses that VCFs fund have a genesis, so do VCFs (Wasserman, 2002).

This paper focuses on the nascent VCF examining the founding team's impact on the VCF's success over time, with success defined as a VCF's ability to raise subsequent venture funds. Our research extends Stinchcombe's (1965) early work to argue that in highly changeable industries, the firm's founders leave a greater "imprint" than the initial strategies chosen. We propose that imprinting has a greater impact on newly founded VCFs for the following reasons. First, the embryonic and dynamic nature of the industries in which VCFs invest makes long-term strategic planning problematic, potentially lessening the impact of firm strategy. VCs typically invest in industries such as high technology (Bygrave & Hunt, 2005) and biotechnology (Lerner, 1994), which tend to have a high level of ambiguity, necessitating ongoing adjustments to investment strategy. Second, the culture of a VCF is highly reflective of its founders. VCFs have few employees, giving founders great influence in comparison with publicly traded firms. As Hannan and Freeman (1984) state: "... some organizations are little more than an extension of wills of dominant coalitions or individuals" (p. 158). Third, a VC's expertise is often based on tacit knowledge, which is gained through apprenticeship. A skilled VC is capable of finding, screening, and evaluating potential investments (Tyebjee & Bruno, 1984), relying on a "gut feel" when making investment decisions (Khan, 1987). While each step of the investment process is complex, experienced VCs navigate this complexity without "conscious volition" (Nelson & Winter, 1982). For these reasons, we believe that a founder's experience is likely to have a greater imprint on a VCF than either the firm strategies chosen, or the environment in which the firm was born (Child, 1972).

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