A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Hewlett Packard's £7 billion bid for Autonomy (LON:AU.) had gone unconditional. This news caused me to reflect on the amount of media comment on why the UK is selling one of its jewels to a foreigner, which in turn led to the following train of thought... What the media commentators should have asked is not why are we allowing Autonomy to be bought, but what are we doing to create at least 1,000 aspiring Autonomys? Achieving the latter would position the UK to stand a chance of creating another success on the scale of Autonomy within the foreseeable future as well as a lot of lesser successes. Even the latter could still provide investors with exceptional returns! An amazing reflection on the constituents of the FTSE 100 is that the sale of Autonomy reduces software companies in the index from two to one. The reason I say amazing is because software is such an important contributor to wealth creation.
Autonomy has an 'intel Inside' positioning. That is to say it supplies products which are fundamental to the operations of a huge number of other organisations and help those organisations improve their operations from the standpoint of their customers. I consider the UK to have an above average but underexploited ability to develop the knowledge which underlies 'Intel Inside' products and/or services. This view is endorsed, for example, by Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy. I feel that the reason that the UK under exploits its potential to develop a much larger universe of 'Intel Inside' companies is because of the inefficiency of providing capital. This arises at several levels. There is no mechanism which seamlessly joins together investors looking to invest in companies of a particular type but at different stages of development. Thus in the MedTech sector it is extraordinarily challenging for companies seeking to raise between £2 million and £10 million. I was talking to some healthcare investment bankers recently who were saying that institutional healthcare investors increasingly want to invest only in companies with market caps of at least £100 million. These investors seem to have no concept of the need to create an incubator to produce mainstream investments to replace those which get taken over. This lack of understanding of the need for ongoing innovation is manifested by looking at the pharmaceutical sector which having been lauded as one of the UK's great successes is now struggling due to patents expiring and inadequate pipelines of proprietary products to replace them.
I believe that changing the culture within institutional investors to remedy the above situation will take forever and that the solution has to be based on private investors, with institutions joining in if they want to. Luckily the arrival of the internet makes it much easier to coalesce private investors and develop a solution pretty quickly. I am particularly impressed by the services which The Share Centre (www.share.com) is putting in place in this regard and in particular its recently launched Sharemark Primary Fundraising service (www.sharemark.com) which is targeted at companies seeking to raise up to EUR 5 million. Provided enough investors participate in this service, it will break a major logjam in the UK capital market for increasing the pool of aspiring Autonomys, which in turn will help us collectively move from an Era of Austerity to an Era of Abundance more quickly!
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