Start-up capital has become an endangered species these days, here on the North American continent at least. That's why underfed ventures might want to take a tip from Steven Volk, CEO of Integral Peripherals, in Boulder, Colo., and go east -- Far East. To found Integral, his fourth start-up, Volk eschewed U.S. venture capitalists and raised $7 million last year, entirely in Asia. "American capitalists love to do early financing, but when it comes to the big bucks, they become scarce," he explains. "If they weren't going to play in the later rounds, at higher valuations, then we decided we didn't need them."
Volk knew his computer-drive company's revenue would come mainly from dominant computer makers in the Pacific Rim and that he'd need "strategic partners, not just financiers" to compete there. So for financing he courted those who would either supply components or consume his product -- a 1.8-inch hard drive for portable computers -- or help sell in Asia. The result: three computer makers, six vendors, and a distributor bought in. The company, which began shipping its first subminiature drives in August, expected to close another $20 million round this fall.
"We got a better valuation," Volk says. "And we have investors who let us run the business." All without giving up control of the voting stock.
What's the secret? A cutting-edge technology and a market anticipating meteoric growth, for starters. Portables make up the fastest-growing segment of the computer market. And Integral holds 18 patents on its advanced drive technology. Investors who are also computer makers were guaranteed a differentiated product and early entry in a competitive market.