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North American VCs’ Day Of Reckoning Did Not Happen In Q3

It looks like things could finally slow down some in the world of North American venture funding, following disappointing IPOs from SmileDirectClub and Peloton, some expected valuation cuts, and, of course, the WeWork fiasco.

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But those developments are not reflected in funding numbers for the just-ended quarter. Crunchbase data shows that investment in U.S. and Canadian startups was still rolling along at historically high levels in Q3.

Overall, investors put $36.16 billion to work across all stages in the third quarter, according to Crunchbase projected totals for North American startups. That’s up a bit from Q2 and a median performance relative to the past five quarters.

Deal counts were up, too. In the just-ended quarter, Crunchbase projects that investors backed a total of 3,563 funding rounds, the highest tally in five quarters, by a smidgen. A pickup in deal-making at the angel and seed stage boosted the Q3 totals.

It was also a strong quarter for exits, albeit with several instances of some weak aftermarket IPO performance. More than 20 private, venture-backed companies carried out public offerings (our running list of 2019 IPOs is here). M&A was also not bad, with a number of deals exceeding $1 billion.

Below, we chart and analyze the numbers in more detail, focusing on investment totals, deal counts, stage-by-stage dealmaking, and exits.

Total Funding And Round Counts

First, we’ll look at funding totals for the quarter. The chart below tallies up investment across all stages, from seed through technology growth.

As you can see, no slowdown here, at least looking at the overall numbers. The chart does show a decline in early stage investment, which could be a worrisome sign. More on that as we look at stage-by-stage trends.

Next, let’s take a peek at round counts in the chart below:

The broad takeaway here is that round count totals were comparatively high in Q3, with a rise in seed-stage financings compensating for a dip in early-stage dealmaking. Now, let’s take a closer look at what’s happening at each stage.

Seed

It all starts at seed stage, so we’ll begin here. The big picture: Seed deals got bigger on average from year-ago levels, and there were more of them.

Investors put $1.92 billion into seed-stage deals in Q3, per Crunchbase projections. That’s up sharply from Q2 and the highest total in five quarters. Projected seed funding deal counts were up as well in Q3, with the total expected to slightly exceed 2,200.

One of the factors behind the rise in seed funding totals is an increase in what Crunchbase calls “supergiant seed rounds,” or seed deals of $5 million or more. Rounds of this size used to be a rarity, but have become much more common in the past couple of years.

Early Stage

Early-stage dealmaking (Series A and B) was less robust in Q3 compared to other recent quarters.

Overall, startups raised $11.5 billion in early-stage funding in Q3. That’s about on par with year-ago levels, but represents a drop of 14 percent from Q2 totals.

A total of 1,045 companies are projected to close a Series A or B round in Q3—the lowest level in five quarters.

Round counts, meanwhile, showed deeper contraction. A total of 1,045 companies are projected to close a Series A or B round in Q3—the lowest level in five quarters. In all, third quarter round counts are down around 12 percent from Q2 and year-ago levels.

In the charts below, we look at both round counts and investment totals for early-stage over the past five quarters:

At the moment, it’s unclear what drove the decline in early-stage investment and deal counts. There’s a lot of money sloshing around the venture space, so it’s likely not about capital shortages and more about investors not finding as many candidates that they wanted to back.

That said, there were plenty of really large early-stage rounds in Q3, for companies in a broad range of industries. We list a few of the largest below:

Late Stage

While we saw some faltering in early-stage funding in Q3, late-stage held strong.

North American companies raised $20.9 billion in late stage rounds (Series C and beyond) over the course of the quarter. That’s a rise of 14 percent from Q2 and up 11 percent from the same period last year.

Round counts totaled 282 – about average for the past five quarters, with median round size flat.

A few really large later-stage rounds played a big role in boosting the quarterly totals. Below, we look at some of the largest Q3 funding recipients in North America:

Technology Growth

Technology growth is the most volatile category Crunchbase tracks, as there are few deals at this stage and they occasionally are huge enough that a single deal moves the quarterly totals.

For Q3, tech growth deals brought in $1.83 billion across 24 rounds.

IPOs

So, enough about money going into startups. What about companies actually providing some returns?

Turns out, the third quarter was a pretty good one in terms of venture-backed tech and healthcare companies making it to market. At least 21 such companies carried out IPOs in Q3 (see list).

Aftermarket performance, however, was more up-and-down, with some high-buzz companies seeing share prices fall sharply following their debuts, while others held on to gains.

Software unicorns, including Medallia and Cloudflare, confirmed there’s still plenty of demand from public investors for high-growth software plays. Disappointing debuts by high-end fitness startup Peloton and teeth-straightening provider SmileDirectClub indicated investors have less appetite for sustaining sky-high valuations in other sectors.

In the chart below, we look at five of the largest venture-backed IPOs of the quarter, based on capital raised.

M&A

Now, onto M&A. While acquisitions don’t provide as much buzz as a blockbuster IPO, they do account for a majority of startup exits.

Since many acquisitions are of undisclosed size, it’s difficult to gauge the returns they’re generating. However, we can look at the handful of large M&A deals for the quarters as at least a partial indicator of what acquirers are willing to pay a lot to buy.

With that in mind, the chart below looks at five of the largest disclosed-price M&A deals of the quarter involving venture-backed tech and biotech companies:

The Big Picture

The Q3 numbers, overall, point to a pretty strong funding environment. However, there is reason for greater concern than the numbers might seem to warrant.

We’re not saying the party’s over, but it might be winding down a bit.

That’s because a lot of warning signs for the startup and unicorn space cropped up towards the end of the quarter. These include the WeWork IPO drama, disappointing Peloton and SmileDirectClub debuts, and a growing sentiment that private investors may have overshot in valuations assigned to high-growth companies outside the software space.

As 2019 enters its final quarter, the exuberance that defined the unicorn space for most of the year is leveling down some. We’re not saying the party’s over, but it might be winding down a bit.

Methodology

The data contained in this report comes directly from Crunchbase, and in two varieties: projected data and reported data.

Crunchbase uses projections for global and U.S. trend analysis. Projections are based on historical patterns in late reporting, which are most pronounced at the earliest stages of venture activity. Using projected data helps prevent undercounting or reporting skewed trends that only correct over time. All projected values are noted accordingly.

Certain metrics, like mean and median reported round sizes, were generated using only reported data. Unlike with projected data, Crunchbase calculates these kinds of metrics based only on the data it currently has. Just like with projected data, reported data will be properly indicated.

Please note that all funding values are given in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted. Crunchbase converts foreign currencies to US dollars at the prevailing spot rate from the date funding rounds, acquisitions, IPOs, and other financial events as reported. Even if those events were added to Crunchbase long after the event was announced, foreign currency transactions are converted at the historic spot price.

Glossary of Funding Terms

  • Seed/Angel include financings that are classified as a seed or angel, including accelerator fundings and equity crowdfunding below $5 million.
  • Early stage venture include financings that are classified as a Series A or B, venture rounds without a designated series that are below $15M, and equity crowdfunding above $5 million.
  • Late stage venture include financings that are classified as a Series C+ and venture rounds greater than $15M.
  • Technology Growth include private equity investments with participation from venture investors.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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