Investments and innovation: regional venture capital activity, business innovation and an ecology of interactions

Pierrakis, Ioannis (2012) Investments and innovation: regional venture capital activity, business innovation and an ecology of interactions. (PhD thesis), Cardiff University, .


This research adds to the growing literature from recent years on innovation finance, innovation systems, and regional economic and innovation policy. Although the role of business has been seen as critical within the regional innovation system, the role of business financing intermediaries has received considerably less attention despite its recognised role as a central actor of the system. This research focuses on an innovation player that seems to have been neglected by scholars to date, namely the venture capital industry. The research examines the role of different types of venture capital, public and private, in fostering innovation at the regional level. In examining this relationship, this thesis empirically analyses the characteristics of 4117 investments deals made to 2359 companies, the innovation outputs of these businesses and the responses to a survey of 50 venture capital professionals. The contribution of this thesis is threefold: First, this thesis investigates whether and how the supply of private sector venture capital and supportive public interventions has changed the availability of venture capital at the regional level. It examines the combination of venture capital in the UK regions by providing a detailed analysis of the extent of venture capital public dependency in each UK region. It also elaborates on the potential implications of the public sectors’s domination in venture capital provision in several UK regions. The regional dimension of the analysis is of special interest as it is the first comprehensive analysis of the source of VC investments (public or private) for each UK region. From a regional perspective, the UK now appears to have two venture capital markets. In London, the South East and, to a lesser extent, the East of England, private sector investors dominate investment activity. This contrasts with the remainder of the UK where the venture capital market is underpinned by extensive public sector involvement. Second, this thesis also investigates the role of venture capital in innovation using patents as a proxy variable for business innovation. In this way, it contributes to the literature by analysing the relation between patenting practices of venture capital backed firms, paying particular attention to two aspects: first, the company’s acquisition of venture finance and progress through the venture capital journey and second, the relationship between patent practices and source of venture capital finance (public or private) in UK regions. The analysis shows a clear relationship between venture capital and patents. Companies with patents are more likely to secure follow up venture capital finance compared with companies without patents. The econometric analysis results also suggest that UK companies with moderate public venture capital support are positively associated with patents while companies with extensive public venture capital support are negatively associated with patents, compared to companies with solely private venture capital support. The final part of the thesis investigates whether the environment in which funds operate may explain observed differences in the ability of these funds to invest in companies with the potential to innovate. It does this by examining the ecology of interaction between venture capital and regional innovation systems. This is the first detailed empirical investigation of the relationship between different types of venture capital (private or public) and other players of the innovation system such as universities incubators, research institutes, and regional authorities. Three important findings emerge from this analysis. First, venture capital public dependence is strongly and significantly associated with higher volumes of interactions with the outside world. The more publicly dependent a fund is, the more it interacts with other players of the innovation system. Second, the role of proximity is still important within the VC industry. Venture capitalists from both the private and the public sector, are more likely to interact with their counterparts from the same region. Third, there is evidence to suggest that operators of publicly backed funds are lacking close connections with their counterparts from the private sectors. This may have implications for their ability to approach and attract private heavy weighted venture capital funds and limited partners that can provide follow on investments or raise further funding for the fund. Although publicly backed venture capitalists interact to a greater extent than the private counterparts, they experience less success (measured as financial performance of the fund or performance of their portfolio companies). It is widely acknowledged that interactions between venture capitalists and other players promotes tacit knowledge, but the results of this thesis suggests that interaction on its own is not enough to provoke success. Overall, the findings of this research suggests that the distinction between the two venture capital markets in the UK, publicly or privately driven, is not limited to the volume or type of venture capital activity but also relates to the ecology of interactions between venture capitalists and other players of the regional innovation system. Since publicly backed funds do not promote innovation to the same extent that private funds do when they invest alone, UK regions that are heavily dependent on public investments may not be able to receive the benefits of a functional venture capital industry. However, regions in which public venture capital funds work closely with private funds, demonstrate a relatively higher volume of venture capital backed companies with the potential to innovate. From a policy perspective, this finding suggests that from an innovation point of view, free public standing investments should be minimised while co-investments between publicly backed and private venture capital funds should be further encouraged.

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