Signs of LP life
In my last update, we highlighted the alarming decline in venture capital fundraising, indicating a potential rock bottom for the industry. In Q1, venture funds only raised $11.7B, substantially lower than the 2022 quarterly average of $41.8B. Q2, however, saw some promising signs of life—VC managers managed to raise $21.6B, marking an impressive 85% increase from Q1 and bringing the year-to-date (YTD) capital raised to $33.3B.
Although 2023 is still projected to be the worst fundraising year since 2017 in terms of pure capital raised, the fact that VC managers raised nearly as much in Q2 as in the previous two quarters combined suggests a revival in LP (Limited Partner) capital flowing back into the space.
Resurgence in the establishment of new VC funds
With only 99 funds established, Q1 2023 was the worst quarter in over a decade with regard to new fund creation. Q2, however, presented a positive shift, with the number of new funds growing by 35% to reach 134, according to the latest data from Pitchbook. While we are still on track for the worst year in terms of the number of funds established since 2013, the quarter-to-quarter trend is encouraging, and we anticipate Q3 numbers to build upon the relatively stronger performance of Q2.
It’s worth noting that the increased number of funds and the total capital raised suggests a continuation of the ongoing trend where larger funds from established managers are being successfully raised while smaller funds from emerging managers face more challenges in attracting capital.
New players emerge in the banking landscape
In Q1, the venture ecosystem experienced a major shock with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), followed swiftly in early May by JPMorgan's acquisition of First Republic Bank (FRB). SVB and FRB were both pioneering banks in the venture space, playing a crucial role in facilitating funding for both funds and startups. Concerns were high for the venture banking sector in May, but as we enter Q3, the situation has stabilized, and now the competition is heating up among banks seeking to be the leaders in this post-shock environment.
First Citizens Bank acquired SVB's venture assets, making a strong push into this space. JPMorgan acquired FRB, with some FRB teams migrating to Citizens Bank (not to be confused with First Citizens). Other banks like HSBC Bank, Stifel, and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) have also actively sought out venture fund banking talent to establish their positions in this market, ultimately looking to serve VCs and startup companies.
Over the next few quarters, it will be interesting to see how fresh players at the table approach underwriting and lending in the VC space and how the teams already familiar with one another will perform within their new organizations. Given the higher interest rate environment, rates on capital call lines of credit now vary more widely, and more fund managers may choose to forego them, deciding that an increase in IRR and operational flexibility aren’t worth the added interest cost.
Stability in management fees
One might naturally assume that General Partners (GPs) would face pressure from their LPs to reduce management fees due to the slowdown in new fund activity and increased competition for capital. Surprisingly, this has not been the case. While fee structures for <$100MM managers still often exhibit creativity and uniqueness, in a conversation I had with Shane Goudey, a fund formation attorney at Cooley, he emphasized that for funds >$100M, "...2-2.5% with some sort of tail is still the norm as LPs look to build long-term relationships."
However, GPs are now “facing increased scrutiny regarding how management fees are utilized, particularly in terms of how salaries and expenses contribute to topline budget,” added Shane. With LPs keen on ensuring that managers can weather any downturn, GPs must now exhibit a coherent plan for expenses and team construction, even without the certainty of raising another fund within 18-36 months. This demonstrates the growing importance of management discipline for GPs.
Challenges persist in exit activity, yet deal activity remains strong
Q2 proved to be another challenging quarter for exit activity, with an exit value of only $5.5B, a further dip from the previous quarter's decade-low of $6.5 billion. The final number of exits in Q2 is also expected to be the lowest since Q4 of 2017.
Despite these headwinds, deal activity remains robust in the venture space. The 2023 deal pace remains at, if not slightly above, 2019-2020 levels.
Conclusion: Navigating the path to recovery
After several quarters of uncertainty, Q2 2023 showcased signs of a return to life in the venture ecosystem. While the road to full recovery may be lengthy, the banking landscape has become more stable, inflation appears to be under control, and interest rate hikes are slowing. We are hopeful that the recovery will continue into the second half of the year, providing further signs of a return to health for this vital industry.