A VC Firm IPOs… Itself

Photograph by Leon Neal — AFP/Getty Images

Draper Esprit, a London-based VC firm that has been backing European startups since 2006, is now publicly-traded on London’s AIM.

The IPO raised £103 million, with proceeds being used to buy out limited partner positions in existing funds (it had last raised in 2010). Around £24 million of the IPO came via LPs rolling over their stakes, while the other £79 million was new capital.

Simon Cook, Draper Esprit’s co-founder and CEO, says that he and his partners were planning to launch a new fundraise, but ultimately felt that a “patient capital” model would make more sense, given how few startups are mature enough for exit within the 10-year investment life of a traditional fund.

“Look at how many U.S. funds are extended,” Cook says. “Or all of the other things that firms are adding, like opportunity funds. In Europe, venture capital is not as well understood by LPs, so adding lots of things can create confusion. Plus, there are a lot of investors that, for regulatory reasons, can’t invest in an illiquid fund structure.”

To be sure, this isn’t novel. 3i Group ― where Cook once worked ― has been publicly traded for years. So is Imperial Innovations. Last year, Neil Woodford raised £800 million via an LSE float (Woodford also is a Draper Esprit backer). And then there is Boston-based Allied Minds, which also went public in London.

Cook doesn’t believe the model would necessarily work in the U.S. although, to be honest, I’m not so sure. Private equity has been moving a bit in this direction, with balance sheets at firms like KKR actually supporting growth equity deals in tech startups, and there was talk before the financial crisis of Sequoia Capital trying to pull off an IPO. Remember, the UK had equity crowdfunding long before the U.S. got around to it….

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