Though the past year had a lot of uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the US VC industry demonstrated its resilience and long-term mindset, achieving new records in total exit value, deal value and capital raised by VC funds, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor, the authoritative quarterly report on venture capital activity in the entrepreneurial ecosystem jointly produced by PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), with support from Silicon Valley Bank and Velocity Global. The US VC liquidity market exceeded expectations in 2020, with a group of massive IPOs driving exit value over 2019’s strong showing. 2020 seemed to mark an inflection point in determining other feasible options for startups looking to go public, most notably the soaring number of public listings of special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) vehicles last year. On the dealmaking side, the earliest stages of venture were hit hard at the outset of the pandemic as sourcing, diligencing, and investing in these companies went fully online after years of leaning on in-person connections to close deals. While late-stage companies have been the strongest piece of the venture ecosystem in 2020, early stage activity rebounded over the second half of the year. Many in the industry assumed nontraditional investors would pull back from VC during the pandemic-induced crisis, but participation has only strengthened. The robust exit market from the past two years will continue to drive distributions back to LPs, reaffirming allocations to the strategy. VC fundraising activity remained a hallmark of strength in 2020 bolstered by public market liquidity from a strong IPO market, near-zero benchmark interest rates, and the large number of LPs underallocated to venture coming into the year.
To download the full report and data packs, please click here. PitchBook and NVCA will also be hosting a webinar in partnership with Silicon Valley Bank and Velocity Global on February 3, 2021 from 10:00 – 11:00 am PST. Please click here to register.
“The unprecedented macro events of 2020 did not deter the overall VC industry, which reached another banner year across the venture cycle,” said Bobby Franklin, President and CEO of NVCA. “The startup ecosystem played a critical role in the technology, services, and healthcare support the country has relied on over the past ten months, and the industry’s resilience and long-term investment eye will be pivotal to the country’s economic recovery in 2021 and beyond. While some segments of the ecosystem felt the brunt of the headwinds from the pandemic and economic uncertainty more than others, VC investors are starting the year in a strong position with ample dry powder to put to work.”
“2020 showed just how resilient the US venture ecosystem could be amidst the unexpected coronavirus pandemic that sent shockwaves throughout the economy and world,” said John Gabbert, founder and CEO of PitchBook. “Despite the uncertainty, we saw the highest ever recorded investment, exit and fundraising values in 2020 and as COVID-19 vaccines roll out and investors start to return to pre-pandemic behaviors, we expect this momentum to continue throughout 2021.”
Aggregate exit value in Q4 2020 reached $138.2 billion, bringing the annual total to $290.1 billion and surpassing the historic total of 2019. Exit value was propelled largely by the opening IPO window in the second half of the year, while exit count remained essentially flat at an estimated 1,101. The strength of the venture exit environment was not isolated to IPOs, as M&A and buyout activity also proved resilient in 2020, especially on an exit count basis. Similar to 2019, another round of massive IPOs drove total exit value as many companies comprising the early unicorn craze finally sought liquidity. Noteworthy public listings last year year include Airbnb, Snowflake, DoorDash, Unity, Root Insurance, Palantir, and Asana. SPACs, one of the main alternatives to the traditional IPO, had a remarkable year. Compared to 2019, the number of public listings of SPAC vehicles quintupled to 250, recording a 579.6% jump in the value raised at $75.1 billion. Over the next few years, the SPACs raised in 2020 will purchase VC-backed companies, providing another exit route going forward and boosting future exit values. The other main alternative, direct listings, managed to have a successful year, albeit with less hype. Palantir and Asana both went public via this route in 2020, marking the first year in which there were multiple billion-dollar direct listings. Given both companies achieved positive results in the aftermarket, they could encourage broader adoption of direct listings.
In Q4 2020, $38.8 billion was invested into US startups, totaling $156.2 billion invested last year, up from $138.1 billion in 2019 and topping $150 billion for the first time ever. The earliest stages of venture were the most jeopardized at the outset of the pandemic, but as activity surged in Q4, the angel and seed market showed to be near fully adjusted to the new market dynamics, with deal activity at these stages reaching their highest level since Q2 2015, according to PitchBook’s deal estimation methodology. The early stage market finished the year strong with $41.8 billion in investment, surpassing the $40 billion mark for the third consecutive year. At the late stage, investors deployed over $100 billion in a single year to late-stage companies for the first time ever. Late stage investment represented 66.7% of total US VC deal value in 2020, the highest proportion since 2007. Mega-deals ($100M+) also achieved a record 321 deals closed in 2020, accruing a total of $70.9 billion, which surpasses the previous record of $64.6 billion set in 2018. Nontraditional venture investment had a banner year despite many predicting a pullback even before COVID-19’s impact. An estimated 3,976 deals with nontraditional investor participation closed in 2020, up 11.7% year-over-year. Nontraditional investors are also now leading, or solely financing, deals at a greater pace than ever before, having led more than 1,500 deals in 2020 for the third consecutive year. Large corporations strengthened their commitment to corporate VC (CVC) investment with Q3 and Q4 2020 recording the highest number of deals with CVC participation in PitchBook’s dataset.
VC firms raised a record $73.6 billion in 2020 across 321 funds, eclipsing 2018’s previous record of $68.1 billion. Both the median and average VC fund sizes experienced notable jumps, rising to $76.0 million and $235.8 million, respectively. The dwindling number of vehicles raised last year was partially responsible for the increasing fund sizes, with 2020 likely to record the lowest count in seven years. There was a significant fundraising bifurcation in 2020 between established VC firms (those that have raised four or more funds) and emerging VC firms (those that have raised three funds or less). Established firms were much more successful than emerging firms and represented more than 70% of total capital raised for the first time since 2014. In contrast, the number of first-time funds closed in 2020 hit a seven-year low of only 50, and these vehicles raised just $3.9 billion total, far below the $6.0 billion and $10.8 billion raised by first-time funds in 2019 and 2018, respectively. With regards to mega-funds ($500M+), VC firms closed a record 44 vehicles in 2020, nearly doubling the 24 closed in 2019. Notable VC mega-funds that closed in Q4 include a pair raised by Andreessen Horowitz (a $3.2 billion LSV Fund II and a $1.3 billion flagship Fund VII), Lead Edge Capital’s Fund V of $950.0 million and Canaan Partners’ Fund XII of $800.0 million.
The full report will include the following components:
NVCA policy highlights
Angel, seed & first financings
Deals by region
Deals by sector
SVB Why SPACs now? :
Velocity Global: Slow the cash burn for portco global expansion
To download the full report, click here.
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About National Venture Capital Association
The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) empowers the next generation of American companies that will fuel the economy of tomorrow. As the voice of the US venture capital and startup community, NVCA advocates for public policy that supports the American entrepreneurial ecosystem. Serving the venture community as the preeminent trade association, NVCA arms the venture community for success, serving as the leading resource for venture capital data, practical education, peer-led initiatives, and networking. For more information about NVCA, please visit www.nvca.org.
Devika Patil, Managing Director of Venture Capital Relationship Management at Silicon Valley Bank
“In the months ahead, we are sure to see new iterations, strategies, and regulations around exit strategies evolve. Whether investors seek to realize value now or down the road, M&A, IPOs, and SPACs will play a role. From our perspective, it is advantageous to have capital flow options and innovation in fundraising with new or revised approaches, especially in a time of huge demand for new solutions to address global challenges.”
Rob Wellner, Chief Revenue Officer at Velocity Global
“The rebound of VC deal counts in Q4, particularly for early-stage companies, provides optimism for companies’ global expansion. Global demand for tech products and services increased amidst the pandemic, and VC investment will fund growth to international markets. Flexible expansion options enable portfolio companies to speed market entry, slow the cash burn rate, but allow them to pivot if market conditions change . With vaccines rolling out, now is the time to test markets and invest in success.”
Joe Horowitz, Managing General Partner at Icon Ventures
“Tragic as the pandemic has been, it has created a global need to re-think and re-set many practices and behaviors. This has spurred significant demand for new innovative solutions and a digital acceleration, fueling the pace of venture capital investment.”
Patricia Nakache, General Partner at Trinity Ventures
“The record levels of total exit value, deal value, and capital raised this year demonstrate how the venture capital industry managed to pivot and adapt quickly and successfully to changes prompted by the pandemic. Early in 2020, managing reserves and ensuring there was enough dry powder were top of mind. But a lot of sectors bounced back very quickly, and with a healthy IPO market and the rapid evolution of SPACs, the industry is primed to begin 2021 in a strong position.”