Execs talk digital deals, opportunities at Innovation Forum

Panel: startups should seek larger partners, not IPOs

Silicon Valley has relinquished some ground to Silicon Beach, but both technology hubs are still haunted by digital investments from years past.

“The media companies are incredibly scarred,” said Gene Sykes, global head of mergers and acquisitions for Goldman Sachs.

Sykes, referring specifically to Time Warner’s disastrous merger with AOL, spoke as part of a panel discussion on digital investment and entrepreneurship Tuesday at the Innovation Forum held at Soho House.

The gathering, hosted by Founders Forum and UK Trade and Investment, featured such speakers as Universal Music chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge, Sony topper Michael Lynton, WME co-CEO Ari Emmanuel, DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and pop star Will.i.am.

More than 60 companies from the U.S. and U.K. attended the summit, including representatives from Wikipedia, Spotify and Soundcloud. The focus of the sessions was opportunities and challenges in the digital content space.

“You have a global reach today that you never had,” said Bill Gross, founder and CEO of advisory firm idealab. Gross spoke of what he viewed as a “collision” of available capital, people who want to join startups and a relatively new global reach that all work in favor of entrepreneurship.

But, others pointed out, new companies still can’t be a drain on their investors.

“(What) we’re talking about is inherently not capital intensive,” Sykes said.

Panelists also referred to the “bargain basement” prices for investment of many U.K. digital media companies. The British government recently announced it would back the expansion of Tech City, which they hope will become something of a British Silicon Valley.

Those startups should hope for one end goal in particular: to be bought or sold by a larger media company.

Going public “shouldn’t be their end-goal,” Gross told the crowd.

Sykes had encouraging words for Facebook, which has struggled to impress Wall Street with its financials and stock price since its initial public offering last May.

“I think two years from now, people will forget about the IPO,” he said.