Promoting a common Nordic seed capital market
The purpose of this report is to address changes needed to promote a well functioning seed stage that contributes in the creation of new companies and new industries in the Nordic countries.
The venture capital market is an important engine for economic growth and the creation of new industries, companies and employment in the Nordic countries. Furthermore, it helps to attract international capital to the region.
This fact has been acknowledged by all the Nordic countries and efforts have been made to improve regulations pertaining to the venture capital and private equity industry in the region as well as on a European level. Academic research has also revealed that no venture capital markets have been established without public support.
A well functioning Nordic venture capital market needs, in the long term, to be attractive to the private sector and particularly to institutional investors worldwide. Since this is not yet fully the case, continued public support is neccessary.
The supply of private capital for the very early stage of venture capital – the seed stage - in the Nordic countries has been limited. Consequently, this space is today dominated by public and publicly funded players.
The resources on today’s Nordic seed market are scattered. Increased Nordic cooperation is one way of reducing this problem and is expected to lead to higher critical mass and tighter networks that are vital for the success of early stage national investment programmes. Furthermore, much is to be gained by benchmarking and sharing best practices among Nordic public investors and financers. Combined, the Nordic countries could constitute a common market of a size that could have venture capital players in different stages with critical mass and global competitiveness.
Changes on a European level will take time, which presents the Nordic countries with an obvious opportunity to create a competitive advantage by acting quickly to improve regulations for the Nordic market. This would further strengthen the Nordic region as a European leader in early stage investments.
The governments have chosen different ways of supporting the seed and venture capital markets in the various Nordic countries, although today, the challenges in the early stages are similar and include lack of private financing in the seed stage, difficulties for venture capital funds to secure new funding for the expansion stage, lack of patience and focus as well as scattered resources in publicly funded investment operations.
In order for the venture capital market to be effective in promoting innovation and sustaining viable start-up companies, it must function as a coherent system for innovation finance. It is imperative that there are a sufficient number of investors in each development stage, and that these investors have adequate funds to provide the capital necessary to finance the development and growth of start-ups. Otherwise, some of those start-ups that obtained funding in the seed stage risk falling into a finance gap that impedes their development or, in a worst case scenario, force them to close down.
The members of the initiative believe that governments in the Nordic countries should aim at creating a more risk taking environment by promoting private early stage investment. Policy makers should ensure that public policy (e.g. tax and regulatory settings) is conducive to venture capital investments. Furthermore, governments should, until there is enough private capital available, invest in the seed stage as well as in funds active in the later stages of venture capital, thus creating a pool of experienced investors. These investment operations need to be executed with patience and in tune with market needs with the aim of creating internationally competitive companies.
It should be emphasized that public funding should not only go where it is apparently needed most – the seed and early stages – but where it has the highest long-term impact on creating a self-sustainable venture capital market in the Nordic countries.
If action is not taken there is a risk of a major set-back in the development of a well functioning common Nordic venture capital market as well as the loss of a substantial part of the large public capital that has been invested in the early stages.
The report contains general recommendations for the Nordic countries as well as status reports and national recommendations regarding promotion of the seed stage in each Nordic country.
June 4, 2009