When you’re a tech company with buckets of cash, one way to put that money to work is to create a corporate venture capital fund (CVC).
CVCs are, typically, a way for large tech companies and unicorns to keep tabs on emerging technologies and support internal product initiatives. And, of course, like a traditional VC, successful exits via acquisition or IPO are a welcome result of investing.
Here, we’re going to find out how hungry parent companies are to provide liquidity to their very own CVCs. However, for context, let’s first determine which CVCs see the most exits via acquisition.
There are two paths to liquidity for startup founders, employees, and investors: being acquired or going public.
For the standard VC, acquisitions are an important metric to measure. The money they invest in startups has to go back in the pot eventually—preferably at a high multiple. And while CVCs aren’t always under the same pressure to produce returns due to their well-flushed corporate backers and differing priorities, the number of total acquisitions, regardless of the acquiree, can give us an overall gauge at how well each CVC is placing their bets.
So below, we charted out the top five CVCs (sorted by number of exits via acquisition) who have had investments acquired.
Leading the pack by a wide margin is Intel Capital, which has seen 297 of its portfolio companies acquired. Of the 121 startups that disclosed their acquisition price, over $31 billion in returns have been generated for Intel Capital and other investors. The largest recorded acquisition out of Intel Capital’s investments was Silknet, which was acquired by KANA Software for $4.2 billion in 2000. KANA software was later acquired by Verint in January 2014 for $514 million in cash.
Following Intel Capital is GV, formerly known as Google Ventures, which has invested in startups since 2009—making it the youngest CVC on our list. And its performance in contrast to its relative age is impressive.
Although Qualcomm Ventures, Softbank Capital, and Comcast Ventures were founded before 2001, GV has participated in more deals, and seen more exits by way of acquisition, than its more weathered peers. And of the 28 deals that have reported their acquisition price, GV’s startup picks have made over $15 billion in returns.
So how many of these CVCs see acquisition from their parent backers?
Eating The(ir) Young
While it’s easy to assume that a tech company’s CVC would serve a good pipeline for potential acquisitions by the CVC’s parent, the numbers are a bit more modest than we expected:
Once again, Intel leads the pack. Nearly 14 percent of Intel’s total known acquisition count is made up of Intel Capital-backed startups. And of the seven deals that reported an acquisition price, Intel provided nearly $1 billion in liquidity to its own CVC and other investors. Intel Capital also led rounds in eight of the 12 startups that were later acquired by the chip giant.
Following the previous ranking, Google takes second after Intel with 6 total acquisitions of GV-backed startups. The largest reported deal in the cohort is Google’s acquisition of Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. The Nest Labs acquisition is also Google’s second largest reported acquisition to date.
And much like Intel, the majority of the GV-backed startups that were acquired by Google had GV as a lead investor in at least one round of funding. Those startups include Nest Labs, Divide, Apportable, and Appurify. However, around 3 percent of Google’s total acquisitions are made up of GV-backed startups.
After Google and Intel, our chart drops a few contenders that made it into our previous chart. Both Softbank Mobile and Qualcomm could not break the ranks of self-consuming most of their own CVC-funded startups. Furthermore, unlike Intel and Google, Salesforce nor Comcast appeared to give any preference to startups their CVCs led investments in.
And while Cisco breaks onto our second list—providing $386 million in liquidity to its CVC Cisco Investments and other investors—the company appears much more interested in acquiring startups competing CVCs have funded.
The IT and networking behemoth has acquired six Intel Capital-startups, totaling to $983 million in known returns to Intel Capital and others. The company has also spent $385 million on two GV-backed startups, though the total amount is more as the purchase price of Collaborate.com is undisclosed. Cisco also acquired Salesforce Ventures-backed CloudLock for $293 million. Overall, Cisco has provided, at minimum, $1.7 billion in returns to CVCs competing with Cisco Investments.
So what does this mean for CVCs looking for returns and entrepreneurs looking for an exit?
Money Goes In Circles, But Probably Not For You
Drawing hard conclusions from such a small dataset is difficult, but there are a few points of interest we can infer from the data gathered.
In the case of CVCs, it’s possible parent companies don’t primarily rely on their CVC’s investment strategy to guide acquisition strategy. It’s also just as likely that a CVC-backed startup could serve the interests of a parent company’s bottom line without the need for an acquisition. After all, it’s not as if Google’s acquisition of Nest went any better because GV was a backer.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs with a CVC-backed startup should keep an open mind in regards to future suitors. Being funded by a CVC may give you an edge in acquisition talks with your investors corporate backer; however, it’s not an exit strategy to put in the pitch deck.