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The bright new age of VC is booming—and is itself being disrupted

The Economist | Nov 22, 2021

Venture capital - The bright new age of VC is booming—and is itself being disruptedThe market capitalisation of venture-capital-backed firms that went public last year amounted to a record $200bn; it is on course to reach $500bn in 2021.  With their pockets full, investors are now looking to bet on a new generation of firms. Global venture investment—which ranges from early “seed” funding for target firms that have not yet developed a product to funding for more established startups—is on track to hit an all-time high of $580bn this year, according to PitchBook, a data provider. That is nearly 50% more than was invested in 2020, and about 20 times that in 2002 (see chart).

The type of investor piling into venture activity has changed just as dramatically. It was once the preserve of niche venture-capital firms run in Silicon Valley. These raised funds from and invested on behalf of pension funds and other end-investors, often relying on vast networks of connections with founders. So far this year, however, only three of the ten biggest venture investors by assets under management have been traditional VC firms.

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Instead, deals led or solely struck by private-equity shops, hedge funds and others that used to conduct little venture activity are on track to nearly double from $144bn in 2020 to $260bn this year. That accounts for a staggering 44% of global VC activity, up from 20% in 2002. “Crossover” funds like Tiger Global Management, which straddle public and private markets, are deploying capital at a breakneck pace. Behemoth pension funds are increasingly directly investing in startups.

The flood of money from deep-pocketed investors has helped swell valuations. But it is also flowing to once-neglected corners and new opportunities. Venture activity now extends well beyond Silicon Valley and America more broadly, and is financing enterprises working on everything from blockchains to biotech.

The wave of capital is also transforming how VC works. VC firms are adopting new strategies as they seek to differentiate themselves in some respects, and to mimic their Wall Street competitors in others. That comes with both benefits and drawbacks for the business of innovation.

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End-investors who previously avoided VC are now getting involved. In addition to alluring returns, picking out the best-performing funds may be easier for VC than for other types of investment: good venture performance tends to be more persistent, according to a paper in the Journal of Financial Economics published last year.

The rush of capital has pushed up company valuations. Seed-stage valuations today are close to where series A valuations (of companies that are typically already generating revenue) were a decade ago. The average seed valuation for an American startup in 2021 is $3.3m, more than five times the level in 2010.

The line between VC and other investors is also blurring further, and not just because Wall Street is encroaching onto Sand Hill Road. Big VC firms are becoming more like other asset managers. Sequoia is expanding its presence in public markets. In October it said that its American and European venture funds will sit within a larger, timeless fund. When portfolio firms go public, their shares will flow to the superfund instead of to end-investors.

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The time taken to strike a deal has shrunk from several weeks to days, if not hours. Zoom has changed the nature of fundraising.

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NCFA Jan 2018 resize - The bright new age of VC is booming—and is itself being disrupted The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: www.ncfacanada.org

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