Start-Up Financing Drops Worst Since 2019

SAN FRANCISCO — funding falls for the first time in three years.

The numbers are sharp. Investments in US tech startups have fallen 23 percent in the last three months to $62.3 billion, according to figures released Thursday by PitchBook, which tracks startups. Worse, in the first six months of the year, initial sales and initial public offerings (the primary ways these companies return cash to investors) fell 88 percent from a year ago to $49 billion.

Downturns are rare in the startup ecosystem, which has enjoyed more than a decade of massive growth fueled by a booming economy, low interest rates, and people increasingly using technology, from smartphones to apps and artificial intelligence. That increase has spawned leftover household names like Airbnb and Instacart. In last decadeQuarterly funding for high-growth start-ups has dropped just sevenfold.

However, rising interest rates, inflation and uncertainty stemming from the war in Ukraine have cast a shadow over the global economy this year. Young tech companies hit. And it heralds a difficult period for the tech industry, which relies on startups in Silicon Valley and beyond to provide the next big engine of innovation and growth.

“We’re in a long bull market,” said Forerunner Ventures investor Kirsten Green, adding that the pullback is partly a response to this frenetic deal period and macroeconomic uncertainty. “What we’re doing right now is to calm things down and cut out some of the noise.”

There is still plenty of money behind the start-up industry and collapse is not imminent. According to PitchBook, investors continue to close deals, 4,457 transactions in the last three months, up 4 percent from a year ago. PitchBook said venture capital firms such as Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital are also continuing to raise large new funds that could be distributed to startups, and have raised $122 billion in commitments so far this year.

Start-ups are also used to crying children. In the last decade, various bumps in the market, predictions that technology is in a bubble that will burst soon. Each time the technology came back stronger and more money flowed in.

Despite this, the warning signs that all is not well have become more apparent lately.

venture capitalists, for example Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partnerswarned young firms to cut costs, save cash and prepare for tough times. In response, many start-ups laid off workers and froze hiring. Several companies have shut down, including payments startup Fast, home design company Modsy, and travel company WanderJaunt.

The pain also reached the young companies that went public in the last two years. Shares of one-time start-up lovers like stocks app Robinhoodscooter start-up Bird Global and cryptocurrency exchange coin base fell 86 percent to 95 percent below last year’s highs. Enjoy Technology, a retail startup that went public in October, filed for bankruptcy last week. Electric Last Mile Solutions, an electric vehicle company that went public in June 2021, said last month that it would liquidate its assets.

PitchBook analyst Kyle Stanford said the difference this year is that the massive checks and soaring valuations of 2021 aren’t happening. These were unsustainable, he said.

Index Ventures investor Mark Goldberg said the start-up market is in a sort of stalemate, leading to a lack of action in new funding, especially for the largest and most mature companies. Many start-up founders don’t want to raise money these days at a price that undervalued their companies than they once were, and investors don’t want to pay last year’s high prices. The result is stationarity.

“Pretty frozen,” said Mr. Goldberg.

Additionally, so many startups have raised such huge chunks of cash in recent boom times that very few of them need raising funds this year, he said. That could change next year, when some companies start running short of cash. “The logjam will break at some point,” he said.

David Spreng, an investor in Runway Growth Capital, a venture debt investment firm, said he sees a disconnect between investors and startups over the state of the market.

“Almost every VC is ringing alarm bells,” he said. However, “all of the management teams we spoke with seem to be thinking: We’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

He said the only thing he’s seen every company do is freeze their hiring. “As we start to see companies miss revenue targets, it’s time to get a little worried,” he said.

Still, the huge piles of capital that venture capital firms have amassed to support startups have given many in the industry confidence that this will prevent a major crash.

“When Spigot reopens, VC will be set up to put a lot of capital back into the business,” Mr. Stanford said. “Unless the broader economic climate gets worse.”

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