Posted by Richard Gabriel on Thursday, July 29, 2010 @ 12:00PM
By Richard Gabriel
I live in Massachusetts and let’s face it; we live in what is perceived to be a high tax state. Whether this belief is true or not we share that belief of high taxes with California, New York, New Jersey and Michigan. On the other hand Florida, Texas and North Carolina, among others share a different belief and it is reflected in each states approach to funding of Life Science companies. And each of those states would kill for the concentration of Life Science, technology and educational institution that we enjoy with California and the other so called high tax states.
Sure, taxes in Massachusetts and the overall business environment for start up companies are less than ideal. There is frankly, no comparison between the incentives being offered in Florida and Texas for start up companies to move to those states and start their businesses. Some entrepreneurs have moved to these states and have taken advantage of the help, financing and favorable state environments. Each time a technology leaves Massachusetts heading for more fertile pastures, we lose jobs, tax revenues and population, which in turn decreases our real estate values, creates more stress on our commonwealth to raise taxes even more, it’s a vicious cycle and yet we sit on one of the greatest natural intellectual resources in the world and have yet to figure out how to fully mine its fountain of bubbling opportunities.
However, in my last blog, we talked about a new funding model for biotech and the life sciences industry and we received hefty responses from VC’s that were interested in exploring a new way of funding. Some ideas that we kicked around included a new ‘fund’ that would have a longer time horizon, attract a more patient and less capricious group of investment partners that weren’t demanding a 5 year exit with double digit returns per annum, but rather a combination of long term debt, mixed with long term equity investment.
How would such a fund work? Well a possible appropriate debt to equity ratio should be 1 to 4. Every dollar in long term debt at a reasonable interest rate is backed by 4 dollars in equity. This ratio, provides the limited debt partner with the interest only coverage for the life of the debt, which in Life Sciences, should be no less than 10 years. Additionally, expecting a short term double digit return on a Life Science equity investment is, frankly, ridiculous. Not only does it place an unfair burden on the entity that is being formed and its management, it is an unfair hurdle and it’s artificial to the practical operations of starting and running this type of business.
Well then, what about the risk? How is a venture fund ever to make any money? All these choices have their pluses and minuses and are self evident. For the entrepreneur, think, Steven Jobs, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and not a veteran of multiple start up companies, all of whom have, by now, failed, been swallowed or otherwise disappeared and, if alive, are headquartered in another part of the country. Perhaps the alternative though of invest big, hold, pay dividends and interest or buy back the shares at an appreciated rate that reflects the true value of the business that was built has some merit today? Take a look at the valuation gaps between a pre-clinical candidate and the sums of money paid by Pharma for Phase 2 & 3 compounds, the gap is astronomical and it is that gap that tells us or should tell us that the current model is wrong
We should be looking more carefully at the broken institution of funding our start ups in our state and instead of letting Texas, Florida, North Carolina and California pirate our technologies and people away, find a way to fund them and keep them here. Build businesses and jobs and people will start coming back to Massachusetts or perhaps they won’t even leave after they graduate! Got any ideas? Write us. We’d love to hear from you.
Richard Gabriel is head of the Life Science practice at Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and advises General and Limited Partners as well as Corporations around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.