Venture

Funding For These Startup Sectors Was Way Down In 2019

Startup winter did not officially arrive in 2019. While the fourth quarter still has a couple chilly days left, totals for the year to date show pretty robust venture funding levels for U.S. and other regions, offset by declines in China. A few sectors in particular did especially well.

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But not every industry had a great year. A Crunchbase News analysis shows a number of major categories – including hardware, blockchain, delivery and electric vehicles — that are poised to show big year-over-year declines.

Below, we look at what the numbers reveal about these out-of-vogue sectors.

Hardware

Hardware investment showed a decline in 2019, as U.S. investors increasingly backed away from big rounds for startups developing consumer electronics, networking hardware, and other devices.

Per preliminary Crunchbase data1, U.S. hardware raised $1.97 billion in seed through late stage venture funding rounds in 2019. Direct year-over-year comparisons aren’t entirely fair at this point in the year, given that many rounds get reported late. Still, it’s hard to see much chance we’ll catch up to the 2018 total of $3.46 billion.

One of the big reasons hardware funding is down is that there were fewer supergiant funding rounds in the category this year. Just two companies raised known rounds of $100 million or more: Fungible, a maker of hardware and software platforms for data centers, and Kinestral Technologies, a developer of adaptive, kinetic glass.

It should also be noted that the hardware category does not include a lot of robotics and autonomous driving deals. If we factored in funding rounds for startups such as Nuro, a developer of autonomous robotic vehicles that raised $940 million in February, the 2019 totals would be much higher.

Crypto And Blockchain

While the price of bitcoin has recovered from lows hit a year ago, dealmaking activity for crypto and blockchain has not followed suit.

Crunchbase data shows investor enthusiasm for crypto and blockchain deals remains far below peaks hit several quarters ago. Dealmaking activity appears to have hit its highest point around late 2017 and early 2018, when cryptocurrency prices kept soaring, and blockchain was the buzzword of the day.

For the first two-thirds of the year, private investors put an estimated $2 billion to work across at least 472 known rounds globally, per Crunchbase analysis (not including initial coin offerings (ICOs)). Initial data for the remainder of the year shows the space still garnering some deals, but well below prior highs. (In 2018, the peak year, investors put at least $4.65 billion into the space, not including ICOs.)

It also should be noted that the numbers include companies for which crypto or blockchain is a component but not a core focus of the business. For example, one of the  largest crypto-related rounds of 2019 was a $323 million Series E for Robinhood, which offers cryptocurrencies but is best-known as a commission free stock trading app.

So when one looks at funding for more pure-play crypto and blockchain startups, the funding levels look more bearish.

Delivery

Food delivery is a tough category for making a profit, but in recent years it’s been a pretty lucrative one for raising venture funding. But if 2019 is any indication, the fast-growing sector is in the midst of a slowdown.

So far this year, food delivery companies brought in $3.85 million globally in venture and seed funding across at least 125 funding rounds, per Crunchbase data. That’s down from $11.1 billion that went to delivery companies in 2018, across at least 223 rounds.

Colombia’s Rappi had the largest single venture capital funding round of food delivery companies in 2019, bringing in $1 billion in its Series E round. DoorDash also pulled in some serious cash, raising a total of $1 billion across two separate rounds.

The food delivery space has encountered its share of problems in 2019. DoorDash came under fire for its tipping practices and we’re still waiting on Postmates to go public. Lackluster post-IPO performance by Uber, which had been banking on growing its delivery business, also hasn’t helped.

That said, companies are still raising big sums, so this isn’t a sector that hasn’t petered out yet.

Electric Vehicles

If you are a venture capitalist and want a place to park lots of capital, the electric vehicle industry has much to offer. Companies in the space are notoriously capital-intensive, and while their risk profile is high, the returns on betting on the category leader can be high too, as evidenced by Tesla’s $70 billion-plus market capitalization.

However, history also shows that the bulk of electric vehicle investments don’t turn out so profitably. Perhaps that, combined with a slowdown in China-based supergiant rounds, is contributing to a global slowdown in venture-backed bets on the sector.

So far in 2019, venture investment in electric vehicle-focused companies totalled $8.8 billion, with just over $5 billion going to Chinese deals. In 2018, by contrast, investors put over $18 billion to work globally, of which more than $14 billion went to China-based companies.

The Big Picture

It’s noteworthy that three of the four shrinking categories highlighted above involve companies that operate in the physical world, either making things or delivering things other people made. The fourth, crypto and blockchain, saw declines in large part because of the bubbly levels of the prior year.

Looking at where the money continues to flow, it’s clear venture investors love affair with software revenue models has not abated. They’re more on the fence, it appears, when it comes to businesses that still incur high fulfillment costs for each customer they add.

Photo courtesy JP Valery of via Unsplash.


  1. Data not adjusted to reflect that a large portion of rounds, particularly at seed and early stage, are reported weeks or months after financing closes. The dataset included companies categorized by Crunchbase as hardware, consumer electronics, mobile devices, or networking hardware.

    We use Crunchbase categories for the searches, sometimes standalone categories and sometimes combining several, potentially along with relevant keywords. We focused primarily on the United States for hardware and on global markets for crypto and blockchain, delivery and electric vehicles.

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