This entry is an excerpt from the OECD’s International Compendium of Entrepreneurship Policies (2020), which contains 16 case studies from 12 OECD countries. The Compendium examines the rationale for entrepreneurship policy, presents a typology of policy approaches and highlights principles for policy success. Case studies span policies for regulations and taxation, entrepreneurship education and training, advice and coaching, access to finance, internationalization, innovation, and holistic packages for ecosystem building. (OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/338f1873-en.)
The in-depth case study summarized below examines a program designed to help early-stage ventures raise capital during the period between the beginning of operations to revenue generation (often referred to as the “valley of death”) to foster firm survival and growth.
Many new ventures require investment capital before they are able to break even. Entrepreneurs, and especially first-time entrepreneurs, often have insufficient knowledge of early-stage investment process and therefore are not well equipped to successfully present their ventures to investors. They also often lack access to appropriate networks that could help them find potential investors and fully develop their venture (e.g. partners, suppliers). This may lead to potentially profitable ideas failing due to the inability to attract and manage resources.
The Cooperative Venturing Program aims to bridge this gap by helping entrepreneurs connect with business angels, who often provide support beyond a financial contribution (Honjo and Nakamura, 2019; Edelman, Manolova and Brush, 2017). Because successful business creation requires a range of competencies, connecting entrepreneurs with a diverse team of mentors helps entrepreneurs be better prepared to raising capital but also to develop networks.
In addition, the program aims to help firms with the near-term potential for only moderate growth overcome the challenge created by increased interest among business angels to invest in super-high-growth startups, often referred to as "unicorns."
The Cooperative Venturing Program helps entrepreneurs secure capital and other resources needed to successfully develop their business by connecting entrepreneurs with a diverse team of mentors, which also helps them to develop their networks. Two key elements of the Cooperative Venturing model are colleaborative mentoring and live/virtual investor pitch forums.
When a venture is accepted into the Cooperative Venturing Program, VCO assigns a team of four to eight mentors who help the founder(s) prepare an investment pitch to present at the next VCO Deal Forum (described below).
The mentors are drawn from VCO’s diverse network to coach and support entrepreneurs with raising capital. VCO mentors have a wide variety of skillsets and experiences (alumni, entrepreneurs, investors, accountants, attorneys, marketing professionals, etc.) and mentor teams often include an angel investor, industry expert, professional expert (e.g. Intellectual Property attorney), and a pitching expert.
During the program, the founder(s) and mentor team meet virtually for an hour twice a week five or six times to prepare an investment pitch. Discussions usually touch on various aspects of the business and often lead the founder(s) to adjust their business model. In addition, mentors often introduce the founder(s) to people in their professional networks.
Each mentor team also includes one (or more) “investor liaisons.” Usually a college intern from a disadvantaged background, liaisons support the mentor team and contribute substantively to the process by collating feedback for the founder(s).
Live + Virtual Forums for Companies to Pitch to Potential Investors
Four times a year, VCO hosts a Deal Forum where founders present their business to a diverse panel of investors with expertise in the founders' business sector. The Forums also attract entrepreneurs and other ecosystem stakeholders (e.g. professional service providers), which helps VCO founders to build their networks in the broader community and build relationships with potential strategic partners.
Deal Forum participants are eligible to participate in VCO’s two large annual events: the Investor Choice Conference (ICC) – where 30-40 ventures present to investors and experts – and the Women Entrepreneurs Realizing Opportunities for Capital (WeROC) conference, which showcases women entrepreneurs to panels of women-focused investors and lenders. Overall, more than 60% of Deal Forum alumni receive an investment funding, and more than 70% of ICC Alumni do.
The program is led by Utah-based VentureCapital.Org (VCO), a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that operates a regional venture accelerator.
VCO's annual operating budget ranges from US $250,000 to US $375,000 (approx. EUR 211,000 to EUR 316,000). VCO also receives significant in-kind contributions from its partners and allies.
VCO does not invest in ventures and does not receive commissions on investments made. VCO seeks to maintain active links to all local and regional entities and adopts a neutral position in the ecosystem.
The program was founded in 1983, expanded in 1986, and became a multi-state operation in 2015.
VCO monitors inputs, processes, and outcomes of the program for entrepreneurs, their ventures and other stakeholders (e.g. mentors and student liaisons). VCO disaggregates results by demographic groupings (e.g. gender).
Metrics & Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):
Entrepreneurs / Ventures
- Investment in supported ventures
- Amount of funding raised
- Long-term survival rates
- Job creation
- Community engagement
- Hours of mentoring
- Career path
- To gather data about client companies’ investment activity, VCO uses:
- Surveys of its former participants
- Reports from third-party sources, e.g., Crunchbase, that provide information on private and public companies, including about founders and investments, and Pitchbook, which produces data on capital markets and business transactions.
- Qualitative data: VCO also documents stories of participants in order to capture various dimensions of impact (e.g. diversity) and further connections made between mentors, co-mentors and founders.
VCO is considering further evaluation, such as a randomized control trial evaluation and an evaluation of the impact of participation on entrepreneurs’ mindsets (VCO, 2019).
Amount of raised capital: Since 1986, VCO participants have raised more than US $20 billion (approx. EUR 17 million), half in equity. Each year, 60-80% of participants raise capital during their first year.
Long-term survival rate: More than 80% of the participant firms created before 2008 were still operating in 2018.
Job creation: In 2017, an estimated 1,150 jobs were created by ICC participants, and, since 1986, more than 45,000 jobs were created by participant companies.
The program has succeeded in supporting a diverse range of founders: a significant share of participants have been women and minorities.
Challenge 1: Building a culture of start-up investment
Since it was established, VCO faced a common challenge: a lack of knowledge about angel investing among entrepreneurs and also among some investors. To address this, VCO organized educational programs for the entrepreneurial community. In addition, VCO was active in the National Association for Seed & Venture Funding (NASVF), which, although it is now dormant, is recognized as having supported the growth of angel investor groups and educating prospective investors.
Challenge 2: Quality of mentorship
VCO uses cooperative mentoring, which helps it maintain a strong and diverse pool of mentors. The methodology creates team dynamics, which helps it weed out sub-par mentors. It also creates new networking opportunities for mentors while sharing the responsibilities.
In addition, VCO mitigates fluctuations in its pool of mentors by maintaining a core group with longer engagement and monitoring mentor satisfaction and striving to make their experience is beneficial.
Lessons for Other Ecosystems
The Cooperative Venturing Program has achieved many positive results over time. Because it leveraged ecosystem stakeholders, it is suitable for adaptation in other locations. Factors of success VCO has identified include:
A focus on the creating of networks: that is, building entrepreneurs' personal networks and curating linkages to mentors and professional networks within the ecosystem. Identifying actors who are committed to community building is essential in adapting the methodology.
Cooperative mentoring, which leverages the experience of multiple experts while sharing responsibility among them, lightened the burden of participation. Mentoring teams have been successfully used in other programs (e.g. the Y Combinator and Techstars accelerators).
The involvement of students in mentoring teams and program management. Other outcomes associated with the internship program are attachment to the community, good labor market outcomes for graduates and higher rates of self-employment.
The program’s pre-screening process. Allowed VCO to identify founders with growth ambitions and the potential to adapt support to the type of venture.
VCO’s neutral role in the ecosystem facilitates linkages. While building trust with local ecosystem stakeholders requires investment, connections with other networks were leveraged to build capacity. It was also important to proactively encourage the participation of other business support providers to foster cooperation and channel competition.
Monitoring metrics and evaluating progress played an important role in VCO refining its methodology and reinforcing its position in the ecosystem. Monitoring metrics was also important in developing linkages with investors to support productive entrepreneurs in a context where unicorns often attract more interest.
Cooperative mentoring allowed for tailored support. While most VCO participants identified securing capital as their principal motivation for enrolling in the program, the cooperative mentoring approach helped entrepreneurs analyze their business model and better understand the importance of building networks for raising capital and developing partnerships. Focusing on angel investors who were willing to share their expertise reinforced the program's capacity-building dimension.