In emerging markets, pricing — not reputation — drives the partnership between underwriter and IPO. Photo via business.rice.edu

Many investors assume they can judge the strength of an IPO based on the reputation of the underwriter supporting it.

However, a recent study by Rice Business professors Anthea Zhang and Haiyang Li, along with Jin Chen (Nottingham University) and Jing Jin (University of International Business and Economics), proves this is only sometimes true — depending on how mature the stock exchange is.

Getting your company listed on the stock market is a big step. It opens new opportunities to raise money and grow the business. But it also means facing increased regulations, reporting requirements and public scrutiny.

To successfully launch an initial public offering (IPO), most companies hire “underwriters” — financial services firms — to guide them through the complex process. Because underwriters have expertise in valuations, filing paperwork and promoting to investors, they play a crucial role in ushering companies onto the market.

In well-established markets like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), an underwriter’s reputation carries immense weight with investors. Top-tier banks like Goldman Sachs have built their reputations by rigorously vetting and partnering with only the most promising companies. When Goldman Sachs takes on the role of underwriter, it sends a strong signal to potential investors that the IPO has met stringent standards. After all, a firm of Goldman’s caliber would not risk tarnishing its hard-earned reputation by associating with subpar companies.

Conversely, IPO firms recognize the value of having a prestigious underwriter. Such an association lends credibility and prestige, enhancing the company’s appeal. In a mature market environment, the underwriter’s reputation correlates to the IPO’s potential, benefiting both the investors who seek opportunities and the companies wanting to make a strong public debut.

However, assumptions about an underwriter’s reputation only hold true if the stock exchange is mature. In emerging or less developed markets, the reputation of an underwriter has no bearing on the quality or potential of the IPO it pairs with.

In an emerging market, the study finds, investors should pay attention to how much the underwriter charges a given IPO for their services. The higher the fee, the riskier it would be to invest in the IPO firm.

To arrive at their findings, the researchers leveraged a unique opportunity in China’s ChiNext Exchange. When ChiNext opened in 2009, regulations were low. Banks faced little consequence for underwriting a substandard IPO. Numerous IPOs on ChiNext were discovered to have engaged in accounting malpractice and inaccurate reporting, resulting in financial losses for investors and eroding confidence in the capital markets. So, for 18 months during 2012-2013, ChiNext closed. When it reopened, exchange reforms were stricter. And suddenly, underwriter reputation became a more reliable marker of IPO quality.

“Our research shows how priorities evolve as markets mature,” Zhang says. “In a new or developing exchange without established regulations, underwriter fees paid by IPO firms dictate the underwriter-company partnership. But as markets reform and mature, reputation and quality become the driving factors.”

The study makes a critical intervention in the understanding of market mechanisms. The findings matter for companies, investors and regulators across societies, highlighting how incentives shift, markets evolve and economic systems work.

The research opens the door to other areas of inquiry. For example, future studies could track relationships between underwriters and companies to reveal the long-term impacts of reputation, fees and rule changes. Research along these lines could help identify best practices benefiting all market participants.

“In the future, researchers could explore how cultural norms, regulations and investor behaviors influence IPO success,” says Li. “Long-term studies on specific underwriter-firm pairs could reveal insights into investor confidence and market stability. Understanding these dynamics can benefit companies, investors and policymakers alike.”

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Yan “Anthea” Zhang, the Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Professor of Management – Strategic Management at Rice Business, and Haiyang Li, the H. Joe Nelson III Professor of Management – Strategic Management at Rice Business.

A patent is an asset — one with a price associated with it when it comes to procuring a loan for your business. Photo via Getty Images

Rice research: What innovations can be used to borrow against?

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For companies and leaders, patents represent important assets. They’re a marker of innovation and tech development. But patents do so much more than protect intellectual property. Firms increasingly deploy them as collateral to secure loans. Between 1995 and 2013, the number of patents pledged as loan collateral increased from about 10,000 to nearly 50,000. Forty percent of U.S. patenting firms have used patents as collateral.

However, patents are intangible assets, and their liquidity and liquidation value are difficult to assess. To evaluate an individual patent, lenders must consider the invention space to which the patent belongs. A patent’s linkage to prior inventions can provide important information for lenders, as the linkage affects the extent to which the patent under consideration may be redeployed and potentially purchased by other firms in the case of loan default.

Rice Business professor Yan Anthea Zhang examined more closely how this market operates and how both lenders and borrowers can make more informed decisions on which patents make appealing collateral. In their paper, “Which patents to use as loan collateral? The role of newness of patents' external technology linkage,” Zhang, who specializes in strategic management, and her co-authors studied the data on 107,180 U.S. semiconductor patents owned by 436 U.S. firms. The team focused on semiconductor patents because the semiconductor industry involves intensive innovation, which leads to many patent applications and grants. The market for semiconductor patents is an active and well-functioning market, given specialization in different stages of the innovation process and the growing technological market. Information on whether a patent was used as loan collateral came from the USPTO Patent Assignments Database.

Zhang and her colleagues argue that lenders prefer patents linked to prior inventions that are relatively new because these patents are riding on recent technology waves and are less likely to become obsolete. As a result, such patents are likely to remain deployable to other firms in the future. However, patents that are based upon too new prior inventions might not prove to be commercially viable and carry higher risk for lenders.

As a result of this research, Zhang and her colleagues found an inverted U-shape relationship to demonstrate the likelihood that a patent will be used as loan collateral. On one end, patents based upon the newest prior inventions, on the other, patents based upon mature prior inventions. The curve of the U-shape represents the sweet spot for patent collateral—the patents’ technological base is new enough to be relevant and competitive with other firms in its invention space, but not so new that it has yet to prove market success.

Zhang’s team also found that the impact of external linkage also varies depending on borrower attributes, especially the borrowers’ expertise in the invention space. If a borrower is a technological leader in the invention space, the market tends to give the borrower credit, and as a result, even if its patents are based upon very new prior inventions, its patents are still likely to be accepted as collateral.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Yan Anthea Zhang, the Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Professor of Management at Rice Business.

Expanding into foreign markets is tempting, but strategic fit can determine success or disaster. Photo via Getty Images

To expand or not to expand? Houston researcher weighs in on global growth

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You built your business from the ground up, patiently finding techniques and products that work, carefully crafting solid bonds with your clients. Then one day a new project, opportunity or simple request poses a question: Is it time to branch out overseas?

Of the welter of questions to consider, the first and most important involves location: not just the physical location of the prospective expansion site, but the cultural differences between a firm's home country and its new destination. Secondly, key company traits need to be considered in choosing the investment locations. Is your firm large or small? Young or old? Finally, of pivotal importance to companies outside the United States: Is your company privately held or state-owned?

In a recent paper, Rice Business professor Yan Anthea Zhang looked closely at these three variables with Yu Li of the University of International Business and Economics Business School in Beijing, China and Wei Shi of the Miami Business School at the University of Miami. What, the researchers wanted to know, was the relation of these three features and firms' location choices for their overseas investments?

To find out, Zhang and her colleagues analyzed 7,491 Chinese firms that had recently ventured into foreign markets with 9,558 overseas subsidiaries. Because China now has become the world's leading source of foreign direct investments, the sample promised to be instructive. Thanks to the large sample size, researchers could test hypotheses relating to firm size, age, ownership and the impact of geographical and cultural distance on their location choices.

After studying the elements of geographic distance and cultural distance, Zhang and her colleagues uncovered a paradox. Companies that had an advantage in tackling one dimension of distance were actually disadvantaged — because of the same characteristic — in another dimension.

How, exactly, did this paradox work? Larger firms, with access to more resources, can "experiment with new strategies, new products, and new markets," the researchers wrote. This large size makes geographic distance less of a concern, but it comes with a ponderous burden of its own. Company culture is directly influenced by the country of origin, Zhang wrote. Transferring that culture into a completely different environment can cause the kind of shock that could lead to failure, even with financial and physical resources to ease the geographical distance. Conversely, smaller firms may be more nimble and able to adapt to needed cultural changes — but lack the resources to make true inroads in a foreign market.

A similar paradox exists for older and younger firms, Zhang wrote. A younger firm is more likely to adapt to a culturally distant country than an older firm might, even if that youth means that geographical distance is a greater logistical challenge.

State-owned firms face a similar paradox, one that comes down to the balance of resources against cultural flexibility. A company with state-generated resources may be better equipped to move a caravan people, machinery and materials to a distant new location. However, state-owned companies often typically lack the internal cultural flexibility to handle expansion to a different environment.

What does this mean for the average manager? Simply that going global demands meticulous weighing of factors. Does your firm have the practical resources to expand overseas? Does your staff have the personal flexibility and willingness to meld company culture with that of a different milieu? It's a truism that major overseas expansions require money and heavy lifting. Less obviously, managers of successful companies must thread a very fine needle: ensuring they have the material resources to get their business overseas physically, while confirming that company culture is light enough on its feet to thrive in day-to-day life in a new place.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Yan Anthea Zhang, a professor and the Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Chair of Strategy in the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

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Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.