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Infusing the Portfolio with Early Stage Venture Capital

Threshold Group’s Managing Director of Investment Strategy, Teresa Wells, discusses how portfolios can be infused with early-stage venture capital as well as what it means to be a source of catalytic capital.


Ron: What’s Threshold Group’s opinion in terms of infusing a portfolio with early stage venture capital and what are the kinds of strategies you’ve looked at?

Teresa: Back to your point about what is early stage venture capital, in a lot of cases actually we think that early stage VC probably makes a lot of sense for foundations simply because it’s a higher risk, higher return type asset class. And you do have those return objectives that are a little bit higher in foundations in order to meet both the operational and philanthropic goals. There’s also a very long time horizon associated with Early Stage VCs. Somewhere in the 10-15 years that aligns well with kind of the long term time horizons that are available to foundation investors. So in a lot of cases they’re fairly well aligned. A good, an optimal outcome is when you get 1 or 2 solid hits, maybe a homerun, and probably 20 more strikeouts. So it requires an understanding of the asset class. It requires kind of a solid set of expectations about what it’s intended to deliver and what it’s going to deliver. Obviously, a little bit of intestinal fortitude to be able to withstand all of that time horizon to wait until you actually see some fruition in that portfolio. And frankly, the disparity between the winners and losers in that asset class is probably wider than it is anywhere else. So it means that you need to do your homework. You need to be invested in the right kind of people that are doing the right kind of things. That said, you also mentioned getting out there and putting the money in the hands of your community and we found a number of really interesting strategies that are doing exactly that. In some cases, to your point Doug, it actually requires someone to take more of a failure position. Or what we like to think of as catalytic capital because some of these ideas are brand new. These are solutions that are just now being created. Problems that we’re just now trying to solve so there’s no track record at all to witness. The manager might be brand new to this whole investment world so it’s much, much harder to go in and do the kind of solid homework and due diligence on these funds that you need. They may not have good operational infrastructure. The team might not have a whole lot of experience there. In those cases we’ve come across a certain number of investors that because it aligns so well with what they want to do from a values base we can introduce them to those kinds of ideas with the understanding that all of these other things are present. Now we’ll do our homework to make sure we can still stand behind it as a fiduciary but we’ll make it perfectly clear that hey, these are all the things that they didn’t pass on. We’re going to work with them over time to where they can get there. But a lot of these investors think of their capital as catalytic because that way they can help drive a track record for that investment strategy or that investment manager and later on both through our management of helping this team get where they need to be as well as the development of this track record it can actually inspire more institutional capital to that idea in later rounds. In that particular case I think one of the most important things is it’s having the capacity to be able to do that both in the liquidity of your portfolio and in an understating of the space. Like a real understanding of the perils and the pitfalls of the space, and it’s also about making sure that you size that appropriately for the risk that you’re taking. It is an interesting area where some people are really willing to step up and be that catalytic capital.

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