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Business angel investment in the China market.

Abstract

Instead of venture capital (VC), informal private venture (business angel, BA) investment is getting more and more important for business start-ups' fund-raising due to its advantages like low entry barrier, simple-and-quick decision, low return rate requirement, and flexible time limitation. BA investment gradually is taking a more dominant position in financial fields of the global and Chinese market, especially for high-technology firms and it will work better with the development of Chinese economic reform and capital market environment. This study briefly reviewed the history, current situation, and trend of BA investment market in China.

Keywords: Business Angel, Start-up, Venture Capital

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Financing problems of SMEs (small and medium enterprises) become the focus of attention as these enterprises fulfill an essential function in economic development. For SMEs in different stages of business development, they face different risk characteristics and have different forms of financing needs. Typically, venture capital plays an important role in new economic development led by high-technology industries. But the importance of business angels has increased in recent years as venture capital funds are investing less and less in the smaller initial funding stages.

Individual states are recognising the significant impact of angel investors on economic development. In China, the new force built by angel investors is emerging as well. As a newly-born industry, the Internet has a much lower threshold for entrepreneurship, especially for new graduates from schools, compared with biotechnology, medical, and materials industries. Startups usually require funds of a few hundreds of thousands dollars, an investment welcome by BA investment. Therefore, many entrepreneurs rely on angel investors when it is difficult to get funding from VCs due to their higher criteria.

According to a definition from the National Venture Capital Association, NVCA, informal private venture investment market is a venture capital market without intermediaries. Free investors and informal investment institutions make equity investment in original ideas or small startups. Investors themselves deal with the whole investment process from pre-investment selection, investment management, to post-investment monitoring and profit realisation. This kind of investment is called Business Angel investment (BA investment), a term originating from some wealthy individuals' "angel-like" funding for charitable theatrical productions in Broadway in the old times.

Based on the estimation by the United States Small Business Administration in 2002, there were about 250,000 angel investors a year in 1990s. The amount of investment was around US$10 billion in that period. Multiplied by an average investment period of six years, the overall market size of BA investment is US$60 billion. In the European market, there are 120,000 angel investors and potential ones are estimated to be over 1 million.

In the past, this kind of investment group was nothing more than a loosely connected network among rich people. In recent years, however, angel investors have been forming investment clubs (for example, Indiana Angel Net, Central New York Angels.) There are some investment associations like the Angel Capital Association, ACA, established to improve pubic understanding of BA investment. Generally speaking, individual angel investors, with financial expertise, have net assets worth over US$1 million and personal income over US$200,000 (Zoltan and Tarpley, 1998). These startups usually get BA investment after running out of first-round funds (coming from entrepreneurs themselves, their family, and friends) but before getting support from Venture Capital (Prowse, 1998). Typical BA investment is carried out in two ways, one through close friends and the other through so-called "Angel Networking". The former works by introducing entrepreneurs to potential investors through relatives, friends, colleagues, or professors. And the latter is completed via angel networking in which finding one angel investor could intrigue another five to 10, or more.

Angel investors like to see exit mechanisms. An exit mechanism means that the angel investor has a means to cash out on the investment. These exit mechanisms include a public offering of shares on a public exchange, a buy-back of investor's shares by the principals of the company, or the acquisition of the angel's position, or the entire company, by a third party. Besides, there is liquidation and exit after the business failure of startups (Farrell, 1998; Kroman, 1997). This exit mechanism is often located in a shareholders' agreement. Some angel investors are not too fussed about specifying a particular exit mechanism. What they want to see is a company which is run professionally enough to create value and to attract investments from other sources such as venture capitalists. These angels feel that, if your company is run professionally and you have the right product or service, eventually a buyer will surface or the company will be able to go public.

Comparison of Business Angels and Venture Capitalists

Many researchers had compared the investment criteria and procedures of business angels (BAs) with that of venture capitalists (VCs) across the full investment process (Freear, Sohl and Wetzel, 1995; Osnabrugge, 2000). For example, although both investors reduce agency risks at all stages of the investment process, BAs place more emphasis on doing so ex-post investment (the incomplete contracts approach), while VCs stress doing so more ex-ante investment (the principal-agent approach). Besides, there are many other differences:

Smaller Scale of Financing than Institutional Investment Funds

BA investment prevails in smaller deals. US$500,000 is the dividing line between investment preferences of business angels and that of venture capitalists. Funds from business angels account for 93 per cent of total investment in deals less than US$250,000, while 75 per cent of investments come from business angels in deals between US$250,000 and US$500,000. Business angels play a much smaller role when financing exceeds US$500,000. Furthermore, angel investors' funds only account for 25 per cent in transactions between US$500,000 to US$1,000,000. Larger investments are dominated by venture capitalists (see Table 1).

Focused Financing on Early Stages of Investment

General speaking, venture investment processes include the seed stage, start up stage, first round, second round, third round, and bridge loan stage (Barry et al, 1990; Lerner, 1994; Manigart and Sapienza, 2000). Research indicates that 48 per cent of funding in the seed stage comes from BA investment, the biggest source of funds in that stage. During the start up stage, angels bring 20 per cent of funds. In the first and second rounds, 8 per cent of funding come from business angels. Only 2 per cent of investment are from business angels in the third round and bridge loan stage. Business angels' importance in early financing stages is more significant in terms of the numbers of projects they participate in. Angels invest in 52 projects, 83 per cent of total, in the seed stage. They also invest in more projects than venture capitalists in the start up stage, during which period angels invest in 55 projects, 59 per cent of the total.

Obviously, angel investors are more active than venture capitalists in both the seed stage and start up stage. Angels invest 54 per cent of their funds and participate in 60 per cent of their projects in the seed stage and start up stage. On the contrary, venture capitalists inject only 20 per cent of their funds, investing in 28 per cent projects in the same stages. Please note that, to get one decade of data for analysis, the sampling period in this research is set to start in mid-1980s; this might produce the most optimistic estimates of venture capitalists' contributions in the seed and start up stages. We believe venture capitalists contributed much lesser in the early stages of business development after the 1990s.

Faster and Simpler Decision-making

It might seem that looking for a business angel is tougher than looking for a venture capitalist. Nonetheless, it takes one month to arrange a meeting with a business angel and 1.75 months to sit face to face with a delegate from a venture capital fund. Getting an investment from angels usually takes 2.5 months from the day of meeting, while it takes venture capitalists 4.5 months to take money out from their pockets (Capon, 1997; Freear, Sohl and Wetzel, 1995). That is because angels have an advantage in numbers and most of them invest in fields they are familiar with.

Lower Expected Returns

Unlike venture capitalists under great external pressure of profit making, business angels use theft own money for investment. Families with higher income express more preference to risk and liquidity than families with lower income: they would like to bear higher risks to earn higher returns. Similarly, they are willing to make fixed long-term investments for such rewards. Consequently, business angels are less risk-averse and more patient compared with venture capitalists.

In China, business angels expect an annual return of 32.5 per cent while venture capitalists are looking to earn profits of 40 per cent a year (Jeng and Wells, 2000) BAs are quite different from VCs in terms of harvest mechanism. More often than not, angels exit by selling shares in private markets, while venture capitalists long for initial public offers or mergers and acquisition deals. This is a fundamental difference in expectation of return on investments or costs between these two types of investors.

Good Combination of Capital and Experience

Angel investors usually have much experience in business and entrepreneurship, and they are fairly active in the investment process. In addition to placing their representatives in the board of directors, most angel investors assume the role of advisers in the firms. Moreover, business angels participate in businesses in which they invest in ways difficult for venture capitalists. About a quarter of angel investors take full-time or part-time jobs in companies they invest in. Some investors even take part in the business operation, and that means a lot to technology startups which often lack experience. However, business angels' participation does not interfere in those firms' autonomy. Business angels only make investments in limited regions.

Business Angel Investment in the China Market

BA investment in the China market is much smaller in terms of scale than that in the US market. In fact, the "863 Plan" and "Torch Plan", launched in 1986 and 1988 respectively, could be viewed as two venture capital investment projects by the Chinese government (Li and Wang, 2003). The incubation effect of BA investment on SMEs in their early stages of business development is recognised by the market. Many SMEs in China encounter various problems during their development. Fund shortage and financing problems are common for SMEs, and many businesses with good prospects failed because of these factors. Therefore, it is urgent for China to leverage experiences of mature capital markets in foreign countries, incubating the BA investment community and improving the structure of the domestic capital market.

Five Faces of China Business Angels

In China, BA investment emerged with the rise of the Internet and high-tech industries; SOHU (www.sohu.com) and SINA (www.sina.com) both started with business angel investments. Contrary to its important role in both venture investment and economic development in other countries, BA investment is in the minority in China. The primary domestic sources of venture capital in China are technology loans from government and development loans from banks. Government departments are still supervisors of technology VC firms established in recent years. This only source of funding led to the sluggish development of China's venture capital market, in which demands are conspicuously unfilled (Liu, Zhou, and He, 2005). At the time of writing, there is no official statistics for the scale of China's BA investment. But based on a survey conducted by QingKe Co, Zero-2-IPO, (two research institutes), and China Venture Investment Research Institute (Hong Kong), China's VC amounted to US$12.8 billion in 2004, of which BA investment only accounted for less than 8 per cent.

There are five categories of China angel investors: the first is composed of the new wealth group with foreign degrees or Chinese top management in foreign businesses; both have common characteristics such like good educational backgrounds, assorted expertise, and familiarity with the dynamics of global technology and management development. Examples of this group include Lee Kai-Fu, president of Google China, and Zhang Ya-Qin, director of Microsoft Research Asia. Both invested in DongFangBoYuan, a startup by students from Tsinghua University.

The second category includes bosses of proprietary companies and high-income individuals from certain industries. These people are agile investors with entrepreneurship experiences and have more funds for investment.

Angel investors of the third category usually inherit wealth accumulated by previous generations. This group needs to make investments in a market short of upward momentum but can't find proper investment opportunities.

The fourth category is composed of foreigners and expatriates with a strong interest in the China market; exemplified by Liu Yao-Han, the investor of AsiaInfo, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte, who invested in SOHU (www.sohu.com).

Investments made by angel investors of the fifth category are sponsored by the government (Liu and Yu, 2006).

China Business Angels Focus on IT Industry

One feature of individual venture capitalists is that they tend to invest in high-tech SMEs, which are less attractive to traditional financial institutions like commercial banks. Three hot regions of China BA investment are Zhongguancun in Beijing, ZhangJiang High-tech Park in Shanghai, and Shenzhen City. According to the China Information Industry Department, China's information industry has climbed to be one of the biggest 10 in the world and ranks third in terms of industry scale.

BA investment, also seed money for the incubation of high-tech firms, are government-sponsored funds given by the Shanghai City government to assist graduates from universities in Shanghai in their technology startups. The purpose is to provide a well-established entrepreneurship environment for graduates. Those funds are primarily used to help university graduates, including students in their last year at the university, start up businesses with their research outputs or patented innovations, offering more opportunities for the students' career development.

Funds are usually provided in two ways. The first is through funding for the incubation of technology outputs of the graduates. Shanghai College Technology Output Incubator and Shanghai Technology Entrepreneurship Park are established with support from Fudan University; Shanghai Jiaotong University, and the Shanghai Institute of Technology. They provide places for graduates who have technology outputs and help them turn those outputs into products. Each incubation project takes six months to one year to complete, and the amount of funding is US$50,000 for each project. The money is mainly spent on leased equipment, outsourced services, and stipends for those entrepreneurs (not exceeding RMB2,000 per month).

The second way is through funding for startups established by graduates with incubated technology outputs. The amount of investment is no more than RMB300,000 for each project. Investment is usually made after the review and assessment of applicants' funding needs. The ratio of investment to entrepreneurs' capital is from 3:1 to 5:1. Entrepreneurs' capital could be paid in the form of patented technology or funds (including loans). Investors could mitigate their investment risk by making investments in stages based on the development of startups. Usually the investment period is from one to two years.

Another example is the Innovation Fund for Technology-based SMEs, so-called "Angel Fund", in Xiamen. To help companies in Xiamen apply for funding of innovation, the Science & Technology Department of Xiamen provides training of application process for organisations. The Innovation Fund for Technology-based SMEs, approved by the congress, is a special fund from government used to support innovations by technology-based SMEs. The investment is focused on the seed and startup stages.

In addition to the high-tech industry, the real estate industry becomes one of China business angels' favourites because of the soaring housing prices in China. Local rich people and successful private enterprises may become the primary investors in China BA investment despite the government's strong hand in this business for the time being. After reforms and deregulations in the past 20 years, private businesses have become indispensable in the economic development of China.

With more and more millionaires and billionaires burgeoning, venture capital funds undoubtedly serve as a good investment vehicle for their money. If China keeps its low interest rate policy, many private enterprises will make more BA investment, especially in wealthy regions like Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu. Those enterprises and rich proprietors will find it hard to resist the temptation of high returns from high-tech industry investment (Gu and Bu, 2005).

Business Angel Club in China

In China, BA investment is still a small market, but the demands for BA investment from startups are fairly large. The average BA investment is from US$30,000 to US$300,000 (Ni, 1999). There are two kinds of business angel clubs: loose confederation and tight confederation, based on the degree of contact by club members. Members of the loose confederation hold monthly meetings and exchange information on new investment projects. While in the tight confederation, members put their funds together and make investments, after collaborative research, through one financial window.

Taking Shenzhen City for example, more angel investors are involved with the quick development of high-tech industry in this region. These angels usually form an investment group to lower the investment risk. Sometimes it costs only RMB10,000 for each angel investor. The key success factors for business angel clubs are good locations, qualified members, and excellent managers. There are often more opportunities existing in technology- and talent-intensive regions, and members should have economic bases and risk-beating capabilities to protect investors' benefits. It is often necessary to have the investment projects evaluated by professionals to raise the success rates (Li and Sun, 2006).

Limitation on the Development of China BA Investment

The biggest limitations and restrictions on venture capital investment in China lie in its regulations and systems. For instance, the Security Investment Fund Law of China, effective from I June 2005, failed to solve the problem of legalisation for private equity funds. There is no effective way to protect private property rights due to the lack of a property law in China. This problem could hinder the investment from potential business angels. Besides, there is no Industry Capital Law and modified Business Contract Law, and even the bylaw of business contract law provides no protection for angel investors if they are cheated or unfairly treated during the investment process. Another example of the limitation on business angels' intent of investment can be observed in the exclusion of individual investors and non-professional institutions from the scope covered by the Temporary Law of Startup Business Management, which encourages investment in SMEs, especially high-tech ones.

Immature capital market, inefficient financing channels and incomplete exit mechanism together seriously lowers business angels' desire for investment. BA investment in startups stumbles under those limitations and many potential angels still keep their distance from the market. As for the matching services provided for BA investment, there are only few service providers with limited influence. Without a complete information network connecting business angels and entrepreneurs in a specific region, angel investors don't have enough projects to choose from and can only act passively in project selection. Entrepreneurs' integrity is another noticeable issue, which, to some extent, reflects the moral hazards.

Besides, some potential business angels, either unqualified or conservative, are more risk-averse and less interested in BA investment. This might be related to the burst of the Internet bubble. These investors lost their money in previous investment projects, therefore, they don't want to get involved in venture investment again.

There are some quasi-angels emerging with the development of the market economy. These people have accumulated some capital and have some knowledge and experiences in business management. They can be guided and encouraged to participate in venture investment activities.

The savings level of Chinese residents is constantly increasing, and the supply of capital is going up. However, investors are not equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills for rational investment as the capital and security markets in China are still developing. It might be feasible for certain professional investment institutions to manage the pooled capital from investors.

Conclusion

Compared with US BA investment, China BA investment still needs related mechanisms for better management. According to previous research results and practical opinions, some suggestions are:

Coordination of Government Regulations and Systems

Many private enterprises and proprietors are wealthy but have no intention to make investment in high-risk and high-return businesses. Much of the government intervention into the market gap for startup and early-stage equity finance in many countries is based on the belief that the problem is on the supply side. Some research (for example, Mason and Harrison, 2002) argued that there is no shortage of finance available. Many business angels are willing to allocate a higher proportion of their investment portfolio to investments in unquoted companies, with better tax incentives having a positive effect on their willingness to invest. Over 90 per cent are currently looking to make more investments. There is a need for further interventions by policy-makers to remove these barriers so that more small firms can take advantage of the substantial pool of angel finance available.

For example, the Oklahoma Technology Commercialisation Corporation has a well-thought-out and designed programme of tax credits, forums, and other incentives. Six other US states have angel incentive programmes and four states have tax credit programmes. Economic development through innovation is stimulated by the presence of angel investing which acts as a catalyst. Economic development in "have not" states with low levels of venture capital investments is being threatened by the transfer of local entrepreneurs and angel investors to nearby "have" states with high levels of venture capital investment activity (Lipper and Sommer, 2002).

A More Compact Matching Mechanism--Business Angels' Network

Previous research has highlighted the existence of an information gap among business angels, mainly due to their desire to keep a low public profile and to the informal character of the market. The creation of business angels' networks was promoted to deal with this gap (San Jose, Roure, and Aernoudt, 2005). Robert D Hisrich, the chairman of the Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management, pointed out that after his survey of the coastal and western regions in China, "matching" and "credit" are two essential factors for the buildup of sustainable angels' networks. Establishment of reliable private credits is even more important in a country like China. It will be easier to create stable management and investment mechanisms if private capital could be pooled together. This will benefit the growth of the whole BA investment market (Bergeman and Hege, 1998).

If family or close friends don't have enough money for investment, groups with similar characteristics can help. The alumni could be a good source because they usually have many things in common and they are usually highly educated. A mast base could be easily established among alumni.

Complete Set of Exit Strategies for Venture Investment

Whether BA investment is successful or not depends on angel investors' ability to exit the investment and realise capital gains. Current ways of exit for business angels include IPO, sale, buy-back, and liquidation. Among these, the IPO where the angels may transfer their ownership to other investors after the firm gets listed, is the best choice. The Second Board Market (non-IPO market) for unquoted companies has not been created yet so founders' shares cannot be traded. This is a problem for angel investors to exit the market. Venture investors could overcome these problems through pumping their funds into capital markets in Hong Kong or other countries, carrying out transactions of the whole or a part of the property rights in the domestic property rights trade centres, or exiting the investment via a merger and acquisition. However, all these rely on the healthy development of venture investment industry.

In China, constantly increasing personal savings imply an abundant supply of private capital. The wealthy groups show great potential for BA investment. Although an effective group of BA investment has not been established, it is expected that one such group will be born under the development of the capital market, government support and guidance of BA investment, and atmosphere of a good investment environment.

BA investment will play a more important role in China's economic reform, prompting rapid development of SMEs and improving the structure of the capital market.

References

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Bergeman D and U Hege, 1998. "Venture Capital Financing, Moral Hazard, and Learning". Journal of Banking and Finance, Vol 22, pp 703-735.

Capon A, 1997. "A New Type of Fund Manager, A Different Breed of Intermediary". Global Investor, Vol 6, pp 110-122.

Mason CM and RT Harrison, 2002. "Barriers to Investment in the Informal Venture Capital Sector". Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, Vol 14, pp 271-287.

Farrell AE, 1998. Informal Venture Capital Investment in Atlantic Canada: A Representative View of 'Angels'. Halifax, Canada: Saint Mary's University.

Gu Z and Q Bu, 2005. "Angelical Investment's Function on Newly Set-up High-tech Enterprises and the Study on the Development of Such Investment: Take Zhejiang Province as an Example". Industrial Technology Economics, Vol 10, pp 130-144.

Jeng L and P Wells, 2000. "The Determinants of Venture Capital Funding: Evidence across Countries". Journal of Corporate Finance, Vol 6, pp 241-289.

Kamien MI and I Zhang, 1993. "Competitive Research Joint Venture". Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Vol 8, pp 201-225.

Lerner J, 1994. "Venture Capitalists and Decision to Go Public". Journal of Financial Economics, Vol 35, pp 293-316.

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Lipper G and B Sommer, 2002. "Encouraging Angel Capital: What the US States Are Doing". Venture Capital: an International Journal of Entrepreneurial Finance, Vol 4, pp 357-362.

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San Jose A, J Roure and R Aernoudt, 2005. "Business Angel Academies: Unleashing the Potential for Business Angel Investment". Venture Capital: An International Journal of Entrepreneurial Finance, Vol 7, pp 149-165.

Web-site of Angel Capital Association (ACA), 2005. Available at URL: http:// www.angelcapitalassociation.org.

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Matthew Liu Tingchi

Macao University of Science and Technology

Bryant Chen Po Chang

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Table 1: Comparison of Scale of Investment by BA and VC
in Hi-tech Startups

Amount of BA Investment VC Investment
Investment

(Ten thousand Numbers of Per cent Numbers of Per cent Total
USD) projects projects

 <25 102 58 8 5 110
 25-50 43 24 14 8 57
 50-100 15 8 31 18 57
 >100 17 10 120 69 137
 Total 177 100 173 100 350

Source: Angel Capital Association, 2005

Table 2: Comparison of Timing of Investment by BA and VC in Hi-tech
Startups

 Per Cent

Stage BA Investment VC Investment Others Total

Seed 48 44 8 100
Start 20 45 35 100
1st round 8 69 23 100
2nd round 8 58 34 100
3rd round 2 52 46 100
Bridge loan -- -- -- --

Source: Angel Capital Association, 2005

Table 3: Number of Current VC Firms in China

 Number of Firms (Thousands)

 2001 2002 2003 2004

Domestic VCs 92 149 162 130
Foreign VCs 33 36 37 40
Joint-Venture VCs -- 15 17 17
Total 125 200 216 187

Source: Zero-2-IPO, 2004

Table 4: The Current VC Scale in China

Capital under Management Available to China

(US$ Million) 2001 2002 2003 2004

Domestic VCs 3,500 4,109 4,853 4,107
Foreign VCs 8,000 5,967 5,739 8,081
Joint-Venture VCs -- 420 635 635

Total 11,500 10,496 11,227 12,823

Source: Zero-2-IPO, 2004
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Title Annotation:RESEARCH NOTE
Author:Chang, Bryant Chen Po
Publication:Singapore Management Review
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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