I am amused by the controversy caused by Tomas Friedman’s comments on stimulating venture capital. The discussion is missing the point. We shouldn’t be arguing if government money would help or hurt Venture Capital. Nor should we be arguing about whether funneling money through Venture Capital firms would create more or less jobs than giving it to GM or Ford. The discussion about venture capital is relevant because we should be discussing what kind of world we want to build.
The old world is dead. The one dominated by industrial giants. The ones listed on the Dow. Yesterday we sold that world and no one was buying. Today we are willing to pay less than we did more than 10 years ago. And all indication is we will discount it more.
So the question is: what's next? The die is cast; the government is the economic engine of the next several years. We the people get to decide what we put our collective capital and efforts into. We will invest in infrastructure and services. We will invest in bolstering manufacturing. We will remake the systems that deliver education, health care and social services. We get to reinvent and reprioritize how we produce and deliver food, water, transportation, and energy. And in our choices of what we build and how we employ, we will create a new world.
So I really don’t care if government money goes to any particular VCs. If Gurley can do better with just the private, pension, and endowment money, more power to him. What I do know is venture money a couple of decades ago funded people and ideas. Now it seems to go much more to companies with established revenue: companies that have little market risk. This use to be referred to as expansion capital. It was second round capital and came after development stage funding. Venture money use to focus on building great companies that create new emerging sectors. Now it goes increasingly to creation of products and services that may be attractive to large companies; essentially nothing more than off balance sheet R&D efforts.
I am all for stimulus dollars for VCs if it puts venture back in venture capital. Small growth companies have always been employment engines. There is perhaps no better way to create jobs than to invest in high growth companies. But the real win - new ventures will innovate and create the world we need. Saving jobs at GM won’t do that.
Like the New Deal and the Marshal Plan, this stimulus and recovery needs to be about building and recreating, not saving what was. So what kind of world do we wish to recreate. Let’s have that discussion.