Unlocking the Mystery of Angel Investment

This is a guest post from Susan K Finston, President of Finston Consulting. Do you have a response to Susan’s post? Respond in the comments section below.

Susan Kling FinstonIn the “Mystery of Capital,” Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto famously writes about the need to convert assets into capital for creation of social and economic value in developing countries and economies in transition, noting:  “Any asset whose economic and social aspects are not fixed in a formal property system is extremely hard to move in the market.”  While de Soto is describing the need to legalize informal property systems, this is equally true with respect to BRICS and other countries seeking to unlock capital resources for R&D intensive start-ups, also known as Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

The importance of creating incentives for Angel investors has been recognized as a critical factor for development of biotechnology.  As articulated by Life Sciences policy expert Michael Tremblay, PhD in describing the needs of smaller (or less developed) biotech markets:  “you’ll need to consider the economic developments that come with building a life sciences sector as you’ll need to energise high net worth individuals as angel investors to help start and run the small businesses ….”

The United States provides investment tax credits at the state and federal level that create an immediate benefit to High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs), also known as Angel Investors, from the moment of investment in a biotechnology start-up or other high-risk technology company.  These Angels have made a huge difference for biotech entrepreneurs in recent years, pitching in where VCs increasingly fear to tread.

In contrast, the challenge of private financing for innovation remains a continuing challenge for the BRICS, in part due to the absence of similar tax credit programs to provide immediate investment incentives for HNWIs:

Angel investors are virtually absent and there remain concerns relating to tax and exchange control regulations that may impact on the risk management strategies of local fund managers.

To take the case of India, for example, the government seeks to provide incentives for R&D investment both through grant / soft loan programs (with matching requirements) and by allowing deduction of R&D expenses against revenues.  Both of these policies provide significant benefits for larger companies with established product lines, however these are not the companies that generally create market disturbing bio-pharma innovation.

Conversely, these policies do not provide as much benefit for R&D intensive MSMES, both due to the challenge of meeting stringent matching requirements, and the absence of incentives for HNWIs to invest in high-risk / high-reward start-up companies. This may be one important reason why India’s life sciences sector has been described as “Biotech without Startups,” something that sounds paradoxical to Western ears, accustomed to how biotechnology evolved from start-ups to global operations, as in recent years with Celgene and Alexion, and in the early days of the biotechnology revolution with Biogen-Idec, Genentech and Amgen.

Amgen began as a biotech start-up more than 30 years ago, with a focus on commercialization of  innovative cancer therapies that save and improve people’s lives.  including oncology therapies are effective against blood cancers, solid tumors, supportive care and more in the pipeline. In financial terms, Amgen ’s valuation exceeds $100 billion –  more than India’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors combined.

With the right incentives for High Net Worth Individuals, imagine the how much social and economic value could be created in any of the BRICS by just one home-grown Amgen!

About the author:
President of Finston Consulting LLC since 2005, Susan works with innovative biotechnology and other clients ranging from start-up to Fortune-100, providing support for legal, transactional, policy and “doing business” issues. Susan has extensive background and special expertise relating to intellectual property and knowledge-economy issues in advanced developing countries including India and South Asia, Latin America and the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. She also works with governments, and NGOs on capacity building and related educational programs through BayhDole25. Together with biotechnology pioneer Ananda Chakrabarty, she also is co-founder of Amrita Therapeutics Ltd., an emerging biopharmaceutical company based in India with cancer peptide drugs entering in vivo research. Previous experience includes 11 years in the U.S Foreign Service with overseas tours in London, Tel Aviv, and Manila and at the Department of State in Washington DC. For more information on latest presentations and publications please visit finstonconsulting.com.

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