The world of venture capital is growing fast.
In fact, 2018 was the biggest year for venture capital investments on record, with firms spreading approximately $131 billion across 8,949 deals, according to data published by PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association. Although the total spent was much more than the previous year’s $83 billion, the number of deals fell by 5%, down from 9,400 the previous year.
More money and fewer deals mean that deals are getting bigger.
In 2018, more than 61% of total capital invested came from deals sized at $50 million or larger. VC is evolving; here’s what that means for investors.
Investments are growing in new industries.
Just as technology has advanced diverse industries, venture capitalists hoping to fund the next big thing have expanded to new industries. Investments are growing in internet and software services, industrial manufacturing (specifically additive manufacturing), the biotech industry (notably genetic engineering), space exploration (space tourism and space mining), and security and defense (specifically artificial intelligence).
More investment is happening in later stage mega-rounds.
Mega-rounds are late-stage investments of $100 million or more. In Q1 2019, mega-rounds accounted for $16.4 billion over 57 deals, the second-best quarter on record. In total, mega-round dollars accounted for 29 percent of all investments in U.S. startups in Q1
Big investments carry risk, and start-up founders know it.
In the venture business model, start-ups raise money from investors in a series of rounds, using the cash to grow at a quicker than normal speed. When the sums of money are larger, the growth can accelerate to rocket speed. Larger investment sums can put serious pressure on start-ups to grow too quickly, making companies too reliant on the funding without pushing them to become financially viable. A growing number of start-up founders don’t want the check that encourages their companies to grow at an unsustainable rate, and that’s changing the game for investors.
It’s not all about the unicorns. Company values matter.
A unicorn is a start-up worth more than $1 billion. While it’s a nice dream, it’s not possible for every start-up to become a unicorn. The unicorn business model—namely the need to continuously raise money in the first few years of operation— is not for every company, and the pressure to grow at all costs can mean serious stress.
So-called zebras are different; they are profitable and sustainable, generally already in successful operation for a few years at the time they purse venture capital. They are also beneficial to society, solving meaningful problems. An example of a Zebra is the company Toya, which is a gaming platform designed to inspire and motivate young girls to realize their full potential.
Venture is highly geographically concentrated.
In 2017, two thirds of the venture capital investment in the top 20 U.S. cities was concentrated in just three metro areas — San Francisco, New York and San Jose, California. Studies have shown a winner-take-all pattern when it comes to venture capital: the more start-ups and venture capital dollars a city has, the more it is likely to attract additional investment and grow into a tech hub.
Venture capital means different things in different places.
Venture capital outside of the major tech hubs areas can be less myopically about dollars earned when it comes to return on investment. Smaller cities understand start-ups as businesses that, if successful, will help to power local economies.
This is particularly true for the Midwest, which has more start-ups focused on older industries, including agriculture and manufacturing. These local economies typically want venture capital dollars to help their start-ups be successful.
For example, a recent change in Indiana law allows out-of-state venture investors to transfer tax credits, giving tech start-ups hope that they might be able to attract investment from out of state.
Venture capital is a changing game. In its original form, investors backed in a host of start-ups, accepting that some would fail and hoping that one or two will succeed. But, that’s no longer the only model. More VCs want to put their money on something that will change the world for the better. They are looking for zebras, rather than unicorns.
And more start-ups want to be zebras, too, proving themselves profitable before they start raising funds. In other words, venture capital is becoming less the end-all-be-all for success, and more so a tool that can be leveraged at different points of business development.
This gives both start-ups and investors new incentive to jump in.