Silicon Valley venture capitalists raise more money, give less away

Fri May 13, 2016 12:40pm EDT
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By Heather Somerville

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Venture capitalists are raising money at the fastest rate in a decade, raking in about $13 billion in the first quarter of 2016.

But much of that cash won't flow into new startups anytime soon. Rather, venture firms are bracing for a downturn and boosting reserves to keep companies they have already backed from going bust, said venture capitalists and limited partners.

"They are squirrels trying to pack their cheeks full of nuts," said Ben Narasin, a partner at Canvas Ventures. "Everyone has been waiting for winter to start for a long time."

The paradox of rising venture fundraising and falling venture investing is the latest sign of a tectonic shift in the tech startup realm. The extraordinary growth of so-called "unicorn" companies such as Uber and Airbnb – now valued at tens of billions of dollars, based on venture investments – has left many high-value startups with no "exit strategy," in Silicon Valley parlance.

Burned by previous busts, Wall Street has lost its appetite for initial public offerings from money-losing companies. No venture-backed tech startup has gone public this year, and the few that did last year - including enterprise storage company Pure Storage, and cloud storage and file-sharing firm Box - have seen their share prices steadily sink. High valuations have also scared off potential acquirers.

Scale Venture Partners exemplifies the cautious approach taking hold in the VC industry. It chose to do one fewer investment from its last fundraising round and to increase its reserves by more than 10 percent.

"We will have to support our companies longer," said Rory O'Driscoll, a partner at the firm, which raised a $335 million fund in January.

Accel Partners has reduced its pace of new investments since the middle of last year, while increasing its follow-on funding for portfolio companies, according to an analysis by venture capital database CB Insights.   Continued...

The Alphabet Inc. campus, also known as Googleplex, is shown in this aerial photo in Mountain View, California, United States on  April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Noah Berger/File photo