Sunday, February 18, 2001

Americans lead in startup investments

But study finds rising skepticism toward new ventures

By Lisa Lipman
The Associated Press

        BOSTON — American investors are ahead of their foreign counterparts when it comes to loaning money to startup companies, but skepticism about the climate for starting new businesses is on the rise, according to a new study.

        The study, which was conducted for a second year by Wellesley, Mass.-based Babson College and the Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, found that about one in 15 American adults invested in new businesses, ponying up an average of $4,000 in those ventures, including their own startups.

        The study also found that the number of Americans who perceive good opportunities to start a business has dropped from 57 percent in 1999 to 52 percent.

        The data in the study came from surveys of 2,000 households in each of 21 nations; interviews with roughly 40 key experts including venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, academics and policy makers; and national statistics.

        The timing of the study may have had an effect on the results, however. Much of the study's data collection was done between the early spring and late summer, before the stock market dropped in the last quarter of the year.

        William Bygrave, a professor at Babson's Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship and one of the authors of the study, said that the survey results were still valid because the dot-com demise, which he says began a year ago January, and the stock market's March free-fall, had already occurred before the surveys were taken.

        “There is some concern (about the timing of the surveys), but we'll know more when we do it again next year,” Mr. Bygrave said.

        Donald Ratajczak, chief executive of Atlanta-based BrainWorks Ventures, said that although the timing of the study may have affected the results, the findings were on the mark.

        “It makes us look better because we were still running a huge wave of IPOs then,” Mr. Ratajczak said. “But there's no doubt that the entrepreneurial spirit is well-developed in the U.S. You may find pockets of it in Europe, but it's pretty much absent in other parts of the world.”

        The study supported Mr. Ratajczak's contention that American entrepreneurs were way ahead of their foreign counterparts. The average amount of venture capital in an American start-up was $13 million, whereas the highest amount elsewhere was $3 million, in Britain.

        “The mantra for venture capitalists is, "Invest a lot of money quickly to stake territory as quickly as possible,'” Mr. Bygrave said. “How can a venture capital-backed company in Sweden compete with a U.S. company when it gets less than $500,000? Without a doubt, venture capital is one of America's most distinct competitive advantages.”

        Differences in attitude also affect foreigners' ability to start new businesses, one expert said, because other cultures don't view success in business the same way that Americans do.

        “The entrepreneur is not the hero (in other countries) that he or she is here,” said Harry Sapienza, Carlson Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Minnesota. “So when you're talking about taking tremendous risk, with tremendous effort, and with hugely uncertain returns, I don't think people are as motivated to do it elsewhere.”

        Mr. Bygrave also notes that 90 percent of information technology venture capital went to American companies.

        Two-thirds of all venture capital went to five states: California (43.1 percent), Massachusetts (9.2 percent), New York (6.5 percent), Texas (5.1 percent) and Colorado (3.6 percent).

        “These are states where you have universities that are strongly committed to high-tech research,” said Ingrid Rima, an economics professor at Temple University's Fox School of Management and Business. “Frequently you have faculty members who, as part of your employment, get laboratory space and money to do research; and students who are inclined to be entrepreneurs.”


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