CLEVELAND — Planes, trains and automobiles. Rather important for those scouring the planet for the best investments. And, just as important, the relationships one builds as a result of being this kind of road warrior.
That was the message of many presentations at the Global Healthcare Investing Conference, co-presented here last week by BioEnterprise (Cleveland) and IBF Conferences .
But more to the point, what VCs in the audience were interested in learning was where does all the traveling take you? Where should you go? And who should you meet while you’re there?
“Networks are built over time,” said Vivian Lee, a partner with Aqua Partners (Los Altos, California). “The way to build them is to have been around a long time.”
For example, she said that among those who invested in the early days, particularly in biotech, “some” are still in the game, so it “becomes a cycle of networking.”
And according to Anthony Sun, principal, Aisling Capital (New York), in a different session and speaking of government officials in foreign countries, one of the best approaches to relationship-building is fairly simple: “Be nice.”
He called that the some of the best advice to doing business over time and efficiently sourcing deals.
Daniel Kosoy, partner in Athenian Venture Partners (Athens, Ohio), told of working for two years in the UK, and having one of the people with whom he worked ultimately moving to Cambridge University’s office of technology transfer, thus offering a contact there for a potential future deal.
Even the community economic development efforts can help networking along. For example, Kosay said there are “a lot of initiatives” to try to connect Toronto and San Diego, where he is based, as well as Vancouver and San Diego. As one big help in that effort, Air Canada, he said, re-initiated direct flights to San Diego.
Much of the work of sourcing, Kosoy said, is relationship-building, and much of that is “being present” and having potential investors “seeing your face.”
For some, like Sanjay Sehgal, managing partner and CEO, East West Capital Partners (Singapore), he says his offices is based in an area where people are doing the investing, so it makes his job a little easier.
Another panelist, Jim Petras, managing director of Early Stage Partners (Cleveland), said his firm works closely with Case Western University (Cleveland) and the technology transfer offices of Cleveland Clinic Innovations . When it comes to sitting down and working on a deal, he said, “We listen carefully.”
Lee said that the sector has “seen a real change in technology transfer.” In the ‘70s and ‘80s “very few people” were open to doing business with them, she said, but that circumstance now seems “like ancient history,” with technology transfer offices being “very proactive” in reaching out to venture capital firms.
“I think universities are seeing the value” of aggressively marketing their IP, she said.
And Kosoy said his experiences with technology transfer offices have been “positive.”
Technology transfer offices at universities play a bigger role in the U.S. perhaps than in Asia, where, Sehgal said, the “concept of technology transfer is relatively new ... very, very new.”
“So, there is an ‘early mover’ advantage for people who get in there and make contacts early,” Sehgal said.
There are also organizations like Global Connect, based out of the University of California at San Diego, which are “tremendously effective” at bringing people together, according to Kosoy. For example, he has had meetings in that city with representatives from as far away as Latvia and Estonia.
“We’re not necessarily investing but getting to know companies [from the beginning] so that we can follow them over time,” Kosoy said.
One of the more interesting questions asked by moderator Davis Griffith, senior managing director of National City Bank (Cleveland), is whether there is “an element of quid pro quo” in building relationships and sourcing networks.
“There is a great deal of reciprocity,” Lee acknowledged, noting the importance of “fully aligned agendas” in doing deals.
“In a macro sense, unanimity is the ideal,” she said, adding that when it comes down to the “nitty-gritty” that may be more difficult to achieve.
Kosoy said, “Relationships do drive this.” It’s why VCs see many people serving as co-investors on more than one deal.
But, as with all relationships, it may be easier to deal with a known entity in answering such questions, such as one posed by Kosoy: “Are we communicating appropriately?”
Petras said a “mature local presence” of a VC is also important in developing and maintaining such relationships.
For those companies on the opposite side of the table — that is those company executives seeking funding — Lee had bad news about sending in business plans cold to VCs, saying that in 99% of the cases, they are not going to be read.
She said that those emerging companies need to condense their best “pitch” down to one she called an “elevator pitch,” in other words what you can say in the time it takes to ride an elevator with someone.