Bob Christiansen spent about 23 years outside Australia helping to start companies and getting to know some of the biggest names in venture capital.
When he returned to his country in 1998 it was to Brisbane. Now Christiansen backs promising Australian entrepreneurs as a managing director at Southern Cross Venture Partners, jetting to the firm’s Sydney office weekly and to its Palo Alto, California office at least half a dozen times year.
“I love working with young technologists,” says Christiansen, 60; a tall, lanky figure whose youthful air is mirrored by his choice of eschewing neckties, as any self-respecting venture capitalist would. “You relive your young days vicariously with others.”
Southern Cross Venture Partners has made its final company investment for its $170 million venture capital fund. The fund has invested in 16 companies.
Each of the companies has got between $7 million and $10 million enabling Southern Cross to take stakes of up to 40 per cent.
The firm likes to keep at least a stake of 20 per cent. It gets Silicon Valley venture capitalists to co-invest with it to help fund the business dreams of information technology, telecommunication, software, internet and clean energy entrepreneurs.
“There is an inefficient market for risk capital in Australia,” says Christiansen. “As capital requirements grow you have to look internationally for larger chunks of capital.”
Southern Cross has relationships with some of venture capital’s biggeest names: Allen & Buckeridge, Sequoia Capital, Venrock and Nth Power.
Historically Australian venture capital funds have been unable to fund later stage venture capital investing sometimes to the detriment of the companies they are backing, causing the businesses to fail.
Silicon Valley, the name for the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area where many of the world’s leading technology firms are located along with their venture capital backers, has the management, service providers and capital to keep a budding company flourishing.
But for every 10 companies a venture capitalist will fund, at least a third will fail, says Christiansen.
Southern Cross Venture Partners will spend the next three years looking to sell the companies it has invested in to a larger firm or through initial public offerings.
The firm also has a $200 million renewable energy fund. Masayoshi Son’s company Softbank will try to find applications for the renewable energy technology developed in Australia for China.
Christiansen, who lives in an apartment in the Brisbane suburb of New Farm, says the city’s residents have developed ground breaking technology.
Mantara Inc., originally a Brisbane company but now based in Jersey City across the Hudson River from Manhattan, has developed electronic trading solutions for the high frequency trading systems of UBS AG and Deutsche Bank AG that provides real time, pre-trade risk management.