Venture debt firm Horizon Technology Finance opens Reston office

September 2, 2012

Horizon Technology Finance, a finance company that provides secured loans to venture-backed upstarts, has hired its first managing director for the mid-Atlantic area as the firm looks to increase its investments in the region.

Farmington, Conn.-based Horizon cuts loan checks to young, growing companies that already have raised funds from traditional venture capitalists but want to add money to their balance sheets without giving away more equity.

Todd McDonald is to oversee investments from Maryland to Florida as managing director for the mid-Atlantic. He previously served as regional managing director at Comerica.

Horizon has loaned money to several companies in the Washington region, including Supernus Pharmaceuticals, Grab Networks and Netuitive.

Horizon’s chief executive, Robert Pomeroy, said the firm decided to open an office in Reston because it had a preexisting business relationship with McDonald.

“There’s nothing particularly unique about the Washington area that makes it more attractive than other places, other than the people and relationships we have there,” Pomeroy said.

“This is a really strong relationships business,” he added. “When we thought about expanding, we looked at people we knew rather than where they were.”

Founded in 2003, Horizon has provided more than $850 million in loan commitments. Loans range in size from $1 million to $20 million with a typical repayment window of 36 to 48 months. Interest rates fall between 11 and 13 percent.

Horizon and similar finance companies offer an alternative to loans from banks, which are often risk-averse and unwilling to give money to a company that has yet to turn a profit.

“We provide a class of capital that can be more risk-tolerant than banks and less expensive than equity capital,” McDonald said.

Supernus Pharmaceuticals, a Rockville-based firm that develops treatments for central nervous system disorders, raised $45 million in venture capital in 2005. Then the economy turned sour and additional venture money became hard to find.

“Valuations of biotech and biopharma assets dropped tremendously, so it became very expensive to raise money,” said Jack Khattar, Supernus’s chief executive.

The company has since raised $155 million in non-dilutive capital through venture debt loans and loans against royalty payments for technology it has licensed to other firms, he said. As a result, Supernus was able to avoid further dilution by investors before carrying out an initial public offering in May.

Still, Khattar said secured loans may not be an attractive alternative for all companies.

“You really have to look at it as a case-by-case scenario,” he said. “In our case, royalties are not strategic to us and our future growth as a company. Our focus was, and continues to be, to invest in our own pipeline and products.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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