Venture capital deals slow as start-ups turn to new money wells

Sophia Amoruso, founder and executive chair of Nasty Gal, is photographed in a studio at the company's office in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 14, 2012.

Sophia Amoruso, founder and executive chair of Nasty Gal, is photographed in a studio at the company’s office in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 14, 2012.

(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Venture capital activity slowed in the first three months of 2015, according to one report, but that doesn’t mean start-ups have pulled in less money than they have in the last few quarters.

Private companies that have raised venture capital at some point received a record $17.7 billion from January through March, deal-tracking firm CB Insights reported Tuesday. However, only $11.3 billion, or 64%, of that came from venture capital firms -- a far lower proportion than the 80% or above that’s been typical in recent quarters.

That’s because mutual funds are branching into venture capital. Some of the most successful start-ups, including Snapchat and Lyft, are turning to mutual fund operators, hedge funds and sovereign wealth managers for big chunks of cash. The latest quarterly data suggest that the trend is accelerating.


“What we are seeing is that late-stage investments into VC-backed companies are increasingly the provenance of new types of investors,” CB Insights said in its report. The venture funds being crowded out have less capital on hand and are looking for returns on investment that make it tougher for them to justify investing at the sky-high valuations that a mutual fund might agree to.

Perhaps as an adjustment, venture capitalists have closed fewer deals over each of the last four quarters, which arguably has helped them put larger sums of money into fast-growing, older start-ups. On the other end, brand-new start-ups are seeing just as many deals, but the checks have grown smaller.

For Los Angeles, the quarter was quieter than usual. Nine deals between venture capitalists and Los Angeles start-ups were tracked in the first quarter, CB Insights said. The deals totaled $59 million, down from $280 million (excluding Snapchat) in the final three months of 2014.

Among the top deals were online retailer Nasty Gal receiving $16 million, a step down from the $40 million that the company raised in 2012. In counterpoint to the trend for freshly minted start-ups, transportation tech designer Hyperloop Technologies picked up $8.5 million as it moved into a downtown Los Angeles warehouse.

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