Silver Lining Behind the Drop in Black Gold…

Instead of developing a warmed over list of “Top 10 Predictions for 2015,” this upcoming year may be most colored by the implications of the collapse of oil prices around the world. We will see the obvious and direct benefit to the US consumer (November retail sales were up a surprising 0.7%) as the price of oil continues to decline, now down well over 40% since June 2014. But hopefully we should also see profound improvements in other areas of the global economy. Of course businesses and geographies (like Texas) which are directly benefited by the high price of oil will suffer; notably while the energy sector only makes up 9% of the S&P 500, this sector accounts for nearly 30% of the total capital expenditures for this index – clearly there will be far reaching ripple effects across other sectors as these investment budgets are slashed.

Arguably the dramatic decline in the price of oil contributed to the increased volatility of public equities we saw during the 4Q14. But it was not only public equity valuations which were whipsawed; fixed income securities, particularly high yield bonds, were impacted by the price drop as investors now appear to be re-assessing how appropriately risk is being priced in the capital markets. The high yield market, which is particularly exposed to turmoil in the oil patch, should now see a spike in corporate defaults. All of this may directly impact the cost of capital, that is, make it more expensive and/or harder for companies to raise capital on terms as favorable as we have seen the past 12 -24 months (the end of “free money?”).

But the greatest impact will be felt in the global geopolitical realm. Notwithstanding numerous countervailing and at times conflicting forces which this price drop has unleashed, the undeniable budget pressures that have been foisted upon the economies of many of the bad acting regimes (Iran, Iraq, Russia, Venezuela come to mind) should lead to profound changes. As Tom Friedman of the New York Times recently pointed out, on the heels of significant oil price declines from 1986 – 1999, we saw the Soviet Union fall apart, more progressive leadership change in Iran (still far to go), and broader recognition of Israel in certain Arab states.

Today we may be seeing emerging evidence of similar potential transitions. Cuba has normalized relationships with the US now that “big brother” Venezuela is effectively bankrupt (oil is 96% of Venezuela’s export revenue). There is widening speculation of imminent political turmoil in Russia and Iran, with continuing turmoil in Libya, Nigeria and Algeria, to name just a few. While these transitions can be marked with much pain and suffering, the long term benefits when politically corrupt oil tyrants collapse are dramatic. Interestingly, according to the World Bank, nearly 12% of the world’s population resides in war zones; those same geographies account for 9% of global oil production yet only 3% of global GDP and less than 1% of the global equity market capitalization. Having significant oil does not necessarily translate into robust economies.

Far too much collective time and energy of our world leaders is dedicated to navigating crises created by regimes propped up by high-priced oil. Idealistically one might dream that, after certain regime changes, those same leaders would be able to focus more of their time on other pressing problems involving healthcare, the environment, education, and wealth inequities or invest more deliberately in critical infrastructure. If nothing else unreasonably high priced oil diverts capital away from arguably more productive uses like developing solutions for those problems confronting us all.



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Sun Also Rises – Twice….

Somewhere Over the Atlantic in Row 32: When you fly across nine time zones you see a lot of odd sun rises. If I did the math right I saw two of them in less than the 15 hours since my initial departure a few days ago.

I spent this past weekend in Abu Dhabi at the Formula One Grand Prix, which it turns out was the season finale and was to determine the overall winner for 2014 (spoiler alert – Lewis Hamilton won the race and had the most points overall). Thanks to my good friends at Mubadala (the leading investment and development company established by the Government of Abu Dhabi to support the emirate’s long-term economic diversification), I spent two days immersed in a series of discussions around the investment climate here – oh, and I also saw a car race.

Abu Dhabi 2014 - 3

It is fascinating to see a region come of age so quickly, so profoundly. When I was last here almost six months ago I toured an extraordinary new hospital being developed by Mubadala in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic – on this visit I was able to once again walk through the facility which is to open in the first half of 2015. This hospital, which sits on 23 acres and has 4.5 million square feet, will service a wide range of complex and critical care cases – arguably the most sophisticated healthcare facility in the entire Middle East. The five Centers of Excellence (Heart and Vascular, Eye, Neurological, Digestive Disease, Respiratory) anchor the activities of the hospital. There will be over 2,000 “Caregivers” servicing the nearly 400 beds when the hospital opens. Given my jet lag I was easily able to get a photo of the sun rising over the hospital, which I thought was particularly propitious.

Abu Dhabi 2014 - 1

Healthcare is a big deal in the United Arab Emirates. The level of activity and investment in the region is significant and many US companies are finding a receptive marketplace there. The Cleveland Clinic has brought significant expertise to Abu Dhabi with its particular healthcare delivery models. The 72 critical care rooms have the most sophisticated equipment available but it is obviously much more than that – the attention to training and operating protocols, even the care to the most mundane of tasks, is quite apparent as evidenced by the signs throughout (see below). Interestingly, and maybe because of heightened awareness due to Ebola or an obsession with really clean hands, the cover story in this weekend’s Gulf News was “Modern Hand Dryers Spread More Germs” – true (cover) story!

Abu Dhabi 2014 - 2

Much of the local investment capital actually flows out of the region as petro-dollars are diversified into other assets and geographies. The amount of new private equity funds focused on the Middle East and North Africa raised year-to-date 2014 is around $2.0 billion (according to Thomson Reuters) versus $1.2 billion for all of 2013, which is an encouraging development but is notably well below the $8.4 billion raised in 2008. Interestingly the private equity investment pace in region is quite modest as year-to-date only 38 deals totaling $428 million have closed versus 71 deals valued at over $1.0 billion in 2013, making Mubadala’s commitment even more notable.

While stuck in a taxi with a defense industry expat I learned that Abu Dhabi has built one of the most impressive fighter jet fleets in the region. Evidently they have 76 of the most advanced F-16’s available – they used to have 80 but 4 recently crashed during training exercises, which at $90 million per plane, nearly rivals the total investment made in the region this year. Unfortunately there is not much of a return on those four investments.


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Barbell or Lollipop?

A great barometer as to the health of the venture capital industry is the quarterly fundraising data which the National Venture Capital Association, in conjunction with Thomson Reuters, released recently. The 3Q14 data suggest that the annualized fundraising pace should come in around $32 billion for the year; this past quarter 60 funds were raised totaling $6.1 billion. The amount raised through three quarters of 2014 ($23.8 billion) already surpasses the amount raised in all of 2013 and will edge right up to the mark set in 2006, the last year the industry raised more than $30 billion. Great sign, right? Closer scrutiny of the data raises some troublesome trends.

In aggregate the VC industry manages $193 billion per the 2014 National Venture Capital Association Yearbook across 874 firms employing 5,891 people (that seems light to me). Interestingly California-based firms manage $94 billion of that amount (or 49%) while Massachusetts firms account for $33 billion (or 17%). The top five states (CA, MA, NY, CT, IL) manage 72% of all venture capital dollars; interestingly those same five states captured 76% of venture dollars invested in 3Q14. Some other notable data points:

  • The dollars raised in 3Q14 was a 21% decrease from the amount raised in the prior quarter. The number of funds declined by a larger amount – 26%. Maybe because it was the summer months?
  • Of the 60 funds raised in 3Q14, 36 were follow-on funds and 24 were from first-time fund managers – quite an important dynamic as it suggests new managers are able to raise capital and that the VC industry can “innovate” with new talent and/or investment strategies.
  • Unfortunately those new funds tended to be quite small; the largest new fund raised was $150 million (congrats, Providence Ventures). In fact 88% of capital committed in 3Q14 went to existing managers leaving the 24 first-time funds to fight over the remaining 12%, implying the new funds were ~$30 million in size on average.
  • Overall the average fund size was $102 million, while the median was only $24.5 million – ouch.
  •  The largest fund raised this past quarter was ~$1.0 billion – J.P Morgan’s Digital Growth Fund II.
  • The top five funds raised 48% of the capital. The top ten raised $4.3 billion or 71% of the capital.
  • Only 16 of the 60 funds raised were larger than $100 million.
  • There were 32 funds raised that were less than $25 million in size, 23 of those were less than $10 million.
  • One poor soul raised a $0.01 million fund.

According to Prequin’s “Fund Manager Profiles 2014 Q1” analysis, 9% of venture firms have raised at least 6 funds, 11% have raised between 4 – 5 funds, 36% have raised between 2 – 3 funds, while 44% of the industry is still with just one fund. This underscores the ability of the industry to rejuvenate itself with many new small funds but it is also really hard to break through and create an enduring venture franchise. Many industry observers have taken to calling this a “barbell” industry structure suggesting stability on either end of the continuum but that may actually be quite elusive. Maybe it looks more like a lollipop – scratch and crawl up the stick to get to the fat and sweet part of the market?

It also continues to be notable that the VC industry is raising capital at a pace well below the amounts invested (see chart below). This fascinates me and probably is explained away by the non-VC investors who have piled into the market (hedge funds, mutual funds, really rich people). We are staring at the seventh consecutive  year that these lines have failed to converge.

Funding Gap Slide 3Q14

Ultimately the real barometer of the industry’s health is measured in returns, which are very complicated to assess. Arguably conditions have conspired to make this a tremendous time for venture capitalists. Powerful new platforms have emerged – such as Amazon Web Services – which can drive innovation in low-cost ways unlike ever before. There are numerous “on ramps” for entrepreneurs with incubators and platforms like Kickstarter. Corporates continue to pursue outsourcing and partnering strategies like never before. The rise and creativity of “super angels” and micro-VC’s contribute enormously to ecosystem. And start-up’s can now address global markets versus just smaller domestic markets.

One of the hallmarks of an inefficient marketplace arguably is a dispersion of returns. Thomson Reuters recently published an analysis which concluded that over the past 30 plus years the top quartile venture returns outperformed by 22.3% the bottom quartile. While returns data are problematic, and if one tortures the numbers long enough, you can get them to say anything, it does seem apparent that small funds struggle relative to peers. In February 2014 Thomson Reuters presented aggregated fund performance data by vintage year which looked at returns by fund size: after three years, funds between $0- $100 million generated 0.6% IRR versus funds $200- $350 million in size with 4.9% IRR; after 10 years it was 1.3% vs 5.3%, 15 years was 13.1% vs 27.4% and after 20 years, the difference was 18.9% vs 34.3% consistently in favor of the larger funds. Returns for funds over $500 million in size tended to outperform on an IRR basis in the near-term (probably due to later stage investments turning over more quickly which helps reported IRR’s, not necessarily return as a multiple of invested capital) but meaningfully underperformed over the long-term.

What does all this mean? The truism that the (historic) venture model really sings with ~$50 million per partner per fund across relatively small partnerships of 4 – 6 general partners may actually be the most productive model. Of course there are outliers on either side of that argument but it is nearly irrefutable that the VC industry structure is changing in profound and not yet fully understood ways.

So barbell or lollipop? Or maybe you have a different shape in mind?


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Shanghai Trip Report….

It only took a few days after I returned this weekend from China for my eyes to stop burning, and maybe the slight cough was really due to the changing seasons in Boston and not the air pollution in Shanghai (now I better understand the amenity in my hotel room – below). A small price to pay to witness the extraordinary commercial activity in what may well be the largest economy in the world sometime in the next decade. And what a fascinating time to be there – although maybe each time I go back I am at risk of thinking that that will be the most fascinating time to be there.

Gas Masks

Arguably the recently introduced reforms by Premier Li Keqiang have ushered in dramatic economic and political advancement. China has never appeared so confident, so assertive. Since late 2012 the systematic purging of corrupt corporate and government officials, undertaken to bolster the public’s confidence in the Communist Party, has led to some spectacular falls from grace. One hopes that increased economic freedoms might gradually lead to greater political freedoms (although as seen in Hong Kong these past few weeks, that does not yet appear to be the case – the October 10 China Daily editorial was titled “HK Protesters Have No Valid Grievances”). Ironically the intense focus on rooting out corruption may also be contributing to slowing economic growth as Premier Li is dependent on those same government bureaucrats to implement his economic agenda, – and many are undoubtedly quite distracted (worried) now.

Having grown up in Hong Kong I have been fascinated for many years with the dramatic ascendancy of China; in my lifetime nearly 25% of the world’s population will have “come of age” – perhaps capped off with the IPO of Alibaba last month, now one of the largest internet companies in the world. But this economic engine requires significant growth and worrying signs are now quite evident. While the official GDP growth rate target for 2014 is 7.5% (analysts worry that growth below 7.0% will cause reforms to stall out), the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences announced last week that it forecasts growth to be 7.3% this year. Storm clouds are building. Other data points – some of which were reported in the China Daily newspaper last week.

  • Two of the four largest commercial banks in China cut rates to spur mortgage lending. It is quite clear that China has a real estate “issue” – year-to-date through August 2014 home sales dropped 11%. And real estate is estimated to be ~25% of the Chinese economy.
  • Related news: the Central Bank of China cut reserve rates for the second time in the last 30 days to 3.4% to spur borrowing.
  • China experienced the greatest monthly steel export boom last month (up 73% year-over-year) due to soft local demand and perhaps indicating that Chinese steel is being dumped onto the global market – watch for a US protectionist backlash.
  • Car sales in China rose at the slowest monthly pace in September over the past 19 months, increasing 2.5%, down from ~20% last year.

While I was there Barclays Research issued an analysis of state-owned companies which underscored the depth of the economic exposure the Communist Party is confronting. More than 25% of state-owned companies lost money in 2013 (as compared to 10% of private companies); the return on equity was calculated to be less than 5% for state-owned enterprises (vs 14% for private). Just to complete the thought, return on assets – also 5% for state-owned as opposed to 9% for private companies. Clearly there is a significant amount of “unproductive” capital still tied up in the Chinese economy which has led to a dramatic decline in listed equities for state-owned companies in the last 30 days (often times declines of greater than 20%).

So what I find so fascinating is watching the Chinese government manage this colossus to a more private capitalist system. This will be one of the greatest transference of asset ownership from collective to private status in the history of mankind – perhaps a little grandiose but the point still stands. Just this past week alone there were a series of developments which underscore this rapid pace of change – easy to dismiss any one of them, but when viewed collectively a clear pattern emerges.

  • The 2014 Report on Foreign Investment in China, issued by the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing (20 years ago it would have been hard to imagine that such an entity would even exist) determined that there was $118 billion of foreign direct investment in 2013 in country, of which $62 billion was in the services sector (up 14% year-over-year). There is a clear rotation away from manufacturing investment by foreigners in China.
  • German Chancellor Merkel welcomed Premier Li in Berlin last week and announced 110 new cooperation and investment agreements aggregating to $18 billion in value. In the midst of all that fanfare, four leading German “economic institutes” announced that German GDP would grow 1.2% in 2015 – which is awkward when your guest is nervous about 7.3%.
  • After Germany, Premier Li spent three days in Russia signing only 40 agreements. Obviously Russia is anxiously tilting toward China as the rest of the world shuns the Kremlin – which further bolsters China’s role as a Super Power.
  • The Chinese seem to be on a US “shopping spree” – the $2 billion acquisition of the Waldorf Hotel in New York City was announced last week. The Rhodium Group estimated that another $10 billion of acquisitions would be announced shortly.

And given my professional interest in healthcare, I focused intently on developments in that sector, which were everywhere last week.

  • It was announced last week in Beijing that foreign entities can now directly invest and operate joint venture hospitals in China, while Hong Kong and Macau based investors can own and operate hospitals outright in certain selected cities. This was confirmed with great excitement by senior hospital executives I met with while in Shanghai.
  • The local healthcare issues are significant. Cities outside of Beijing in northern China reported air quality levels 20x worse than healthy levels. In Beijing on Saturday PM 2.5 pollution particles measured over 500 micrograms per cubic meter of air – that should really be closer to single digits.
  • It was World Mental Health Day (October 10) while I was there. The China Daily reported that the 6,910 mental health specialists in Beijing were overwhelmed treating the over 50,000 patients (didn’t strike me as all that bad until I read on…). The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated – wait for it – that there are over 100 million people in China with mental health “problems” of which 16 million were classified as with “very worrying conditions.”
  • Ebola was referenced but seemed to be characterized as an “African issue” still (although admittedly that might be unfair just reading three days’ worth of local newspapers).
  • The China Daily reported that “Sexting Still Popular Activity in US Despite Risks” – so it is not just the Chinese that are confronting these serious health risks!
  • And lastly, this same newspaper, which was only 12 pages long, dedicated one entire page to covering the NBA, undoubtedly appealing to some of those people with mental health problems.


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London Calling…

When traveling last week to London, I was stuck by a number of public sector initiatives to drive entrepreneurial activity all across the UK (particularly in the life sciences) – or in other words to back-fill the gaps where the private sector was less than cooperative. It was a tricky few days to be in London as the English were struggling with the pending referendum vote in Scotland which, at 55/45 “No” for succession, hardly seemed like a resounding vote of support to stay united.

But first some context. The US life sciences sector is on fire right now. The NASDAQ biotech index is up 20% this year, notwithstanding Chairwoman Yellen’s complaints about over-extended valuations. There have been 43 US biotech IPO’s this year which have raised collectively ~$4 billion; the UK/European life sciences industry has seen only 28 companies ($1.4 billion raised) go public in the same timeframe. Arguably we are starting to (finally) see the commercial benefits of the litany of scientific advances of the past two decades take hold, yet that phenomenon is less evident across the UK and Europe. Maybe this can be attributed to differences in entrepreneurial fervor or hyper-charged incentive structures in the US which richly reward innovation. Either way the healthcare sector in the UK and Europe suffer from relatively frosty public and private capital markets.

This divergence is how I found myself meeting with the UK’s Financial Secretary to Treasury, Minister David Gauke, to review a series of initiatives launched in the UK to address the English version of the “capital gap.” The Minister opened the conversation by observing that the UK has successfully affected the “Wimbledonization” of their innovation economy, that is, they provide the place but not the players. After citing the requisite facts to underscore how closely aligned the US and UK are – 3.9 million travelers between the two countries every year, 1 million jobs directly attributable to bilateral trade – we explored more specific areas of collaboration and reviewed successful models of public/private partnerships.

With great fanfare, the UK has launched the Catapult Program which is comprised of nine innovation centers around the country which are structured along more specific technology initiatives. That afternoon I was fortunate to visit the Cell Therapy Catapult, which is a magnificent center at Guy’s Hospital in London. To date the center has received 70 million pounds of core funding to build 7,000 square meters of lab space and at capacity will house 100 scientists managing upwards of 30 research projects. The funding is one-third from each of government grants, collaborative R&D investments, and commercial “fee-for-service” revenues – quite a sustainable model.

Other Catapults include Precision Medicines, High Value Manufacturing, Satellite Applications, Connected Digital Economy (less obvious to me given all the start-up activity), Future Cities, Transport Systems, and Offshore Renewable Energy; it was this last one I found particularly fascinating as I listened to that team step through the market opportunity, again which the private sector has not entirely embraced – yet.

So I now think of a wind farm as another type of power plant – and it needs to be evaluated as such. Sheepishly the scientists at this Catapult acknowledged that at today’s pricing models, wind power may be consider uneconomic which is why the UK government has stepped in. Some fascinating facts as to where the UK stands today:

  • There are 1,000 wind turbines off the UK coast today
  • By 2020 they forecast that there will be ~3,000 wind turbines out there which means every two days a new wind turbine is installed
  • Which is now generating nearly 5% of the total net electricity consumed in the UK
  • And is also generating a lot of jobs – in 2007 there were 400 jobs attributed to Offshore Energy in the UK and by 2013, there were 18,000 jobs dependent on this emerging industry
  • Before a wind turbine is deployed there are 8 – 10 years of planning involved including environmental impact assessments

So as wind power becomes a significant reality, this model will have catapulted the UK offshore energy industry ahead in profound ways in a remote part of the country. So as the Clash so eloquently sang – “London calling to faraway towns…Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls…”

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What Just Happened – Part II?

The National Venture Capital Association released the 2Q14 fundraising data a few weeks ago which makes for fascinating reading when compared to the 2Q14 VC investing data. While sentiment is meaningfully improved from the depths of the Great Recession of a few years ago, analysts were surprised that the amount of capital raised was actually down 19% from 1Q14; that is 78 venture firms raised $7.5 billion (data are slightly revised since the initial press release) as compared to 63 firms and $9.1 billion in 1Q14 and 55 firms and $3.3 billion in 2Q13. Obviously quarter-to-quarter variations are interesting but may not tell the whole story.

Most VC’s will tell you that conditions have improved – clearly with greater liquidity (i.e., distributions to LP’s) from stepped-up IPO activity and M&A transaction volume comes greater investor confidence. Some also expected to see a greater impact on fundraising volumes due to the ability for firms to now publicly solicit accredited U.S. investors (see 500 Startups) but that has yet to be a meaningful contributor to overall activity. Arguably the rising tide is not lifting all boats in the same manner. The VC industry continues to be dramatically redefined and the battle between large and small firms continues – the average size fund raised was $95 million, while the median was $28 million thus hinting at the underlying structural changes.

  • The top ten funds raised this past quarter collected $4.4 billion or nearly 60% of the total amount raised, implying an average fund size of…wait for it…$440 million; this is skewed by the largest fund raised by Norwest Venture Partners clocking in at $1.2 billion.
  • There were only nine funds raised between $150 million and $300 million, which had been the “bread and butter” fund size of the VC industry, especially if you think in terms of the “$50 million per partner per fund” metrics.
  • There were 59 funds raised that were less than $100 million in size and in aggregate they collected $1.5 billion (average fund size ~$25 million)
  • Notably there were 38 funds raised which were less than $25 million in size (and of that, 24 were less than $10 million in size – so nearly a third of the funds raised were tiny).
  • The 20 first time-funds raised $666 million (bad omen?); the largest of which was $172 million (Lightstone Ventures) – the average size of first-time funds was $33 million. Maybe LP’s are not really “all-in” yet which underscores the stickiness of existing venture brands.

What continues to be so confounding is the duration and depth of the “VC funding gap.” The venture industry for more than six years has invested at a pace far outstripping its ability to raise new capital. Clearly the lines below must converge at some point, and rather dramatically. Part of this can be explained by non-VC firms investing actively in VC deals – that is hedge funds and angels who would not normally be counted in the funds raised data. Simply annualizing volumes through the first two quarters of 2014 it appears that the VC industry is on pace to raise $33 billion and yet the industry looks like it will invest close to $45 billion. That gap existed before 2008 and has endured.

Funding Gap 2Q14

Interestingly this phenomenon is not in all markets. In fact Chinese VC’s invested $2.8 billion into Chinese companies this past quarter (as compared to $1.4 billion in 2Q13) while Chinese VC firms were able to raise 13 new funds totaling $3.1 billion.

So what should we expect for returns from this investment period? While it is obviously too early to call it, the VC industry has had trouble in the past absorbing too much capital, too quickly as suggested in the below analysis (prepared by Michael Nugent at the Bison Group) which looks at the average size commitment by LP each year; LP’s tend to pile into VC funds on the heels of strong vintage years. Extraordinary returns tend to be highly correlated to robust public capital markets but are also impacted by over-eager private capital markets investing at arguably an unsustainable pace.

Global VC IRR August 2014

Good thing the level of innovation is unprecedented today, entrepreneurs are addressing global markets while building economically sound businesses – now should be different – or not.


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And They Said It Couldn’t Get Any Better…

And for that reason I am growing more concerned. The 2Q14 VC investment data just released in the MoneyTree Report prepared by the National Venture Capital Association with an assist from PricewaterhouseCoopers and Thomson Reuters details the $13.0 billion invested in 1,114 companies over the last three months. This is the most dollars invested in a quarter since 1Q01 (and we know how that ended). This is almost 34% more than was invested in 1Q14 and a ridiculous 80% more than 2Q13. As you will see, this quarter was bigger and better than recent prior quarters across almost any dimension.

Year-to-date the VC industry has invested $22.7 billion, more than all of 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession. And while the number of deals this quarter was relatively flat, the amount of dollars invested, amount per round, pre-money valuations – all spiked considerably. Quite clearly VC’s focused on more mature, more established companies, and more often than not in software companies in Silicon Valley. Arguably the data probably include non-traditional VC’s such as hedge funds, private equity firms “going down market” and maybe some offshore investors who were out in force this quarter – and who often show up late in a cycle.

So there a few questions I struggle with as I stared at the data this weekend: are some of these deals “venture deals?” That is, when a company like Uber raises a $1.2 billion round should we include that in the analysis (later I strip it out to normalize for the “Uber effect” and yet many of the conclusions still stand). Second, when so many companies espouse the “lean start-up” mantra, why then are round sizes spiking so dramatically. Lastly, as Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal so brilliantly pointed out on July 7, 2014, the data suggest that VC’s have continued to forsake industries which do as he states “basic research and development that transforms lives, in fields such as energy, medicine and food safety.” This last issue is profoundly important and merits much greater scrutiny – at another time perhaps – but the data arguably supports the concern.

And the VC industry has shown that it has at times an “absorption” problem – that is, too much capital too quickly more often than not leads to too many look alike companies all beating each other up over small emerging markets, ensuring only few will be successful.

All of this activity reflects increased liquidity in the system with promising IPO activity (see biotech sector) and strong M&A volumes but also at a time of accelerating recovery in jobs creation and overall compelling real economic growth with benign inflation. Increased manufacturing productivity growth of 3.2% this year (according to ISI Group), when it has consistently been well below 2.0% per annum for the past five years, underscores the benefits of a robust tech economy. But I am reminded that the average bull market runs 57 months with the S&P 500 stock index increasing 165%; this current bull market is now 63 months old and stocks have increased 186% – again, how much better could it get?

So what do we see in the 2Q14 data?

  • Software category absolutely killed it – there was $6.1 billion invested in 454 software companies with average round size of $13.3 million. Five of the top deals were software companies and consumed $1.8 billion of that amount (taking those five companies out of the mix – Uber, Lyft, Nanthealth, Anaplan, New Relic) the average round size of the remaining was $10 million. In 2Q13 the average size was $6.2 million – nice step up.
  • Lights, camera, action – media and entertainment captured $1.0 billion of the dollars this quarter which was just below a doubling of the prior year’s second quarter.
  • Consumer Products/Services pulled in $553 million in 58 companies
  • Healthcare held its own – all of healthcare (biotech, devices, services) represented $2.6 billion of the quarter’s total as compared to $1.8 billion in 1Q14 – the difference almost entirely due to an $800 million increase in biotech activity. The average size biotech round in 2Q14 was $15.0 million.
  • Hardware categories like Computers, Electronics, Networking, Semiconductors and Telecom together captured $726 million across 57 companies ($13 million per) which used to be the bread and butter for venture investors last decade.
  • And Energy made a modest recovery scoring $717 million across 68 companies; this is a category that was all but left for dead over the past few years.

The other important theme that was emerging over the last few years was the rotation away from Seed stage investments to Later stage rounds. And while that trend continued, there are some surprising observations buried in the data.

  • Expansion stage dollars invested spiked 53% last quarter and was 44% of all activity; average round size was $18.7 million. In 2Q13 Expansion stage was 31% of the total with average round size of $9.5 million – that is a very big jump.
  • Early stage investing increased 17% on a dollars basis and 9% on a deals basis in the quarter with average round size of $7.3 million. There were 522 Early stage investments or 47% of the total number of deals.
  • Seed stage continued to fade away – while Seed dollars increased 46% and the number of deals increased 20% from the prior quarter, Seed stage was 1.4% of all dollars invested – down from 3.3% in 2Q13. There were only 55 Seed deals recorded in 2Q14 (which actually strikes me as under-reported frankly). Average size Seed round was $3.4 million – which doesn’t even really feel like a seed.
  • Later stage represented $3.2 billion invested in 229 companies, an increase of 25% and 19%, respectively.
  • In aggregate “First Time” investments was $1.9 billion or 14% of all dollars invested; this measures how much capital was invested in companies raising their first VC round. This was a 20% increase over 1Q14 – which may be read as an increase in risk tolerance by VC’s. Worthy of consideration.

The other phenomenon, and not necessarily a good one, is the geographic concentration of the VC industry. Not surprisingly Silicon Valley continues to take market share – accelerated by the “Uber effect” – at the clear expense of secondary and tertiary markets.

  • Silicon Valley rocks – $7.1 billion was invested in Valley-based companies or 55% of the total dollars (this had been 51% in 1Q14 and 42% in 2Q13, respectively). This is 5.7x New England and New York Metro, which were within $49 million of each other this past quarter at around $1.2 billion each. All three regions together captured 74% of all dollars invested.
  • Notwithstanding Silicon Valley’s dominance the region “only” represented 33% of all deals done (vs 55% of dollars invested). Does that suggest a “reverse brain drain” – that is, as my distant relative Horace Greeley may have once said, “Go West, Young Entrepreneur.” Do newly financed executives feel that they need to move to the Valley to scale their companies? Or are Valley companies able to raise more dollars per round? Or VC’s support those companies longer?
  • Coming in at number 4 was LA/Orange County at $538 million or 4.2% while Texas was number 7 with 2.7% share.
  • Funny state facts: 30 states saw less than $50 million invested within its borders in 2Q14; 17 had less than $5 million invested and 6 had $0 million invested. Twenty two states had less than 3 companies raise venture capital in 2Q14.

To the extent innovation represents growth, and VC’s finance that innovation, this concentration risks leaving important geographies behind.


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