This article appeared in the Bloomberg Businessweek under the same title, Venture capital firms called essential link.
Sept. 07–MALTA — The Capital Region will be able to take its next big step toward becoming a major high-tech hub only when venture capital firms start moving here.
A panel of four technology inventors and business leaders, including Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak, spoke Thursday at a special event hosted by GlobalFoundries at its Fab 8 computer chip factory in Saratoga County. The panelists gave their impressions of the local high-tech scene and talked about what separates this area, also known as Tech Valley, from other high-tech areas such as Silicon Valley.
Almost all of them said that the lack of outside interest by venture capitalists was holding the region back. They said the flow of private capital from outside the area would help support startup companies that become the Apples of the world. But without it, the region will never grow organically.
To date, the Capital Region’s largest success stories, Albany NanoTech, GlobalFoundries and even IBM, have relied heavily on government subsidies.
“We need one major venture capital company to open an office here and get serious about it,” said John Cavalier, the former CEO of MapInfo in North Greenbush, which was sold to Pitney Bowes when Cavalier was chairman. Cavalier was once a division president at Atari and worked with Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs at Apple in the 1980s.
Daniel Pickett III, CEO of nfrastructure, a Clifton Park-based information technology company that does work all over the country, said that venture capital firms are nibbling at this area, trying to find out what the buzz is all about. He said that Thursday night his company was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and bankers from Goldman Sachs were scheduled to attend.
“They’re looking,” Pickett said about venture capitalists in general. “They’ve come here before.”
The Capital Region has many so-called “angel” investors — individuals who will provide seed money to startup companies and join their boards to provide advice. Cavalier is one of them.
And there is High Peaks Ventures, a Troy venture capital firm that does deals with companies both inside the region and outside. But there isn’t much more early-stage capital, and local companies often rely on government assistance to get off the ground.
That’s a huge difference from the Boston area, where startups come from places like MIT and can easily get $10 million or $20 million from the local venture community, especially if they are working in the biotechnology sector.
That is about to change, Cavalier said.
“The Boston venture capital firms are sniffing around right now,” he said. “There is no doubt about it, that is what we are going to need.”
Most of the crowd, which was estimated at between 400 and 500 people, was there to hear from Wozniak, who is always eager to share his opinions on technology and his quirky sense of humor.
One person in the audience asked Wozniak, who had visited Tech Valley High School in East Greenbush earlier in the day, if he had an iPhone 5 to show the crowd. The iPhone 5 is expected to be Apple’s next iPhone, but its details and launch are a closely guarded secret.
“I could show you one, but I would have to kill you,” Wozniak said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.