Spatial proximity effects and regional equity gaps in the venture capital market: evidence from Germany and the United Kingdom
The issue of ‘equity gaps’ has loomed large in recent discussions of enterprise formation and development, both in the United Kingdom and in Germany. One particularly intriguing, but highly elusive, aspect of this issue is the question of whether equity gaps have a regional dimension: are certain regions at a systematic disadvantage with respect to the provision of equity capital? In this paper, we explore this question in the context of the UK and German venture capital industries, drawing both on unpublished industry data and on information obtained from original surveys of venture capital firms in the two countries. We report clear evidence that the venture industries in both countries are spatially constituted. Despite important national differences, venture capital firms tend to be concentrated in identifiable clusters and their investment outcomes show clear evidence of spatial proximity effects; investment is disproportionately concentrated in those regions that also contain the major clusters of venture capital firms. However, how far this spatial form produces regional equity gaps is hard to determine. Venture capitalists themselves argue that they do not intentionally discriminate between regions in their decisionmaking, and many acknowledge the existence of funding and deal-size gaps but not regional gaps per se. But their perception of project risk is, nevertheless, regionally sensitive. We argue that the notion of a simple supply gap overlooks the way in which the localised form of the industry is based on a dynamic learning process in which demand and supply processes combine with their embeddedness in social networks and individual perceptions in a mutually reinforcing way. Less-favoured regions, with low investment rates, few local venture capital firms, and a dearth of experienced specialist intermediaries, may thus be trapped in a situation of both depressed demand for and supply of venture capital investment.