Big deal: October kicks off with fundraising galore

Russia and Saudi Arabia have launched a $1bn vehicle, Enterprise Ireland has added another Competitive Start Fund and African Development Bank has put its weight behind a $200m fund.

Large figures are no rarity in the government venturing world, where news often reaches from small seed investments to multi-billion dollar initiatives in any given month. The past seven days served as a prime example for the latter, with two news items breaking through the $1bn wall.

The smaller of the two vehicles was the $1bn Russia-based technology investment fund established by Russia government-owned investment vehicle Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The move forms part of an agreement inked by the two partners in 2015 to supply a total of $10bn to Russian businesses over four to five years.

The partnership followed western countries imposing sanctions on Russia in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea. The sanctions proved harmful to the Russian startup ecosystem and all but halted initial public offerings – the spell was only broken this February with a $355m flotation by children’s retailer Detsky Mir on the Moscow Stock Exchange. IPOs continue to remain a rarity, though the decision today by shoe retailer Obuv Rossii to target a $136m offering in Moscow may provide some hope to investors and policy makers.

The larger of the two initiatives was the $6.1bn artificial intelligence and data science-focused hub announced by the Indian state of Karnataka. The Centre of Excellence for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence will function as a public-private partnership and will operate from Bangalore headquarters in partnership with domestic IT trade body National Association of Software and Services Companies.

The centre is set to open in January next year and will target the creation of 35,000 jobs through 2023. Portfolio businesses will receive financial support and research assistance for up to five years, with the government aiming to set up a $306m fund of funds and supporting 20,000 startups by 2020.

Karnataka’s government is no stranger to the venturing world, having previously set up a $7.5m fund aimed at the pharmaceutical industry in November 2016 and a $1.5m fund for women entrepreneurs in March 2017.

Other parts of the world were also busy last week: Enterprise Ireland, the Irish state-owned export credit agency, launched another of its Competitive Start Funds – a program that targets domestic, early-stage businesses.

The agency has now set up eight of these funds this year, with the latest aimed at seasoned entrepreneurs who have at least 25 years of relevant experience, of which they must have spent 10 years in a leadership position. Enterprise Ireland said the fund seeks to redress an imbalance in the ecosystem that has so far mostly favoured young entrepreneurs.

Yesterday, Investec Ventures announced its intention of remaining an important player in the Irish ecosystem. The venture capital group is seeking €75m ($88m) for a fund aimed at early-stage technology startups and has opened talks with potential investors, according to the Times.

The firm currently manages the €75m Ulster Bank Diageo Venture Fund, set up in 2008, overseeing investments in 20 businesses. Limited partners in that fund include Enterprise Ireland and sovereign wealth fund Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) as well as financial services firm Ulster Bank and alcoholic beverage producer Diageo Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland, ISIF and the EU-owned investment vehicle European Investment Fund are reportedly exploring contributions to the new fund, though Ulster Bank’s return is doubtful considering its parent firm, RBS, has joined the Business Growth Fund, a UK-based initiative that has announced a €200m vehicle focused on Ireland.

Elsewhere, multilateral development finance provider African Development Bank (AfDB), is set to commit to a $200m healthcare-focused fund established by investment bank EFG Hermes.

Among the limited partners we also find GE Healthcare, the health technology division of diversified conglomerate General Electric. So far, none of the parties have revealed how much money they are putting into the Rx Healthcare Fund, which will invest in companies that have the potential to cope with demand for affordable, high-quality healthcare across the African continent.

The fund is off to a good start not only for its two experienced limited partners announced so far, but also for who is leading the management: Hatem El Gabaly, the former minister of health in Egypt, who noted in April that the healthcare sector only accounted for 7% of investments made across African startups between 2011 and 2016.

And the frenzy continued today, when Vertex Ventures, the venture capital arm of Singapore state-owned investment firm Temasek, declared it has closed its third Southeast Asian fund at $210m, according to DealStreetAsia.

The fund, a regional record-breaker, had a $150m target though it already pushed beyond that number at the end of August. Notably, the fund is the first time that Vertex has sought capital from investors other than Temasek, with Thailand-based financial services firm Kasikornbank supplying money just two months after launching its $29m corporate venturing division, Beacon Venture Capital.

Vertex’s latest scheme is expected to focus on the fintech sector, providing between $3m and $5m to series A-stage companies, which stand to benefit significantly from Kasikornbank’s expertise and network. Meanwhile, Vertex will open additional offices across the Southeast Asia region to better identify opportunities in an area of the world that has become increasingly interested in tapping into startups – illustrated, among countless examples, by Vietnam last week confirming it was keen to pass a regulatory framework that would offer tax breaks to VC firms setting up shop in the country.

It seems as though the financial year of 2017-2018 may turn into a very busy one indeed, with all these funds to start seeking opportunities immediately and, hopefully, inspiring yet more governments to recognise the importance of venture capital.

See more from this Government Report: India, Ireland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UK

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