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«∗ Ramana Nanda Matthew Rhodes-Kropf Harvard Business School Harvard Business School Boston MA Boston MA January, 2012 Abstract We find that ...»

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Investment Cycles and Startup Innovation∗

Ramana Nanda Matthew Rhodes-Kropf

Harvard Business School Harvard Business School

Boston MA Boston MA

January, 2012

Abstract

We find that VC-backed firms receiving their initial investment in hot markets are less likely to IPO, but conditional on going public are valued higher

on the day of their IPO, have more patents and have more citations to their

patents. Our results suggest that VCs invest in riskier and more innovative startups in hot markets (rather than just worse firms). This is true even for the most experienced VCs. Furthermore, our results suggest that the flood of capital in hot markets also plays a causal role in shifting investments to more novel startups - by lowering the cost of experimentation for early stage investors and allowing them to make riskier, more novel, investments.

JEL Classification: G24, G32, O31 Key Words: Venture Capital, Innovation, Market Cycles, Financing Risk ∗ Soldiers Field Road, Boston, MA 02163, USA. Email: rnanda@hbs.edu and mrhodeskropf@hbs.edu. We are grateful to Bo Becker, Shai Bernstein, Michael Ewens, Bill Kerr, Paul Gompers, Robin Greenwood, Thomas Hellmann, Josh Lerner, David Scharfstein, Antoinette Schoar and Rick Townsend for fruitful discussion and comments, and to the seminar participants at MIT, UT Austin, Tuck School of Business, Harvard, Houston University, Northeastern University, University of Lausanne, Notre Dame, Hong Kong University. We thank Oliver Heimes and Sarah Wolverton for research assistance, and the Division of Faculty Research and Development at HBS and the Kauffman Foundation for financial support. All errors are our own.

Investment Cycles and Startup Innovation Abstract We find that VC-backed firms receiving their initial investment in hot markets are less likely to IPO, but conditional on going public are valued higher on the day of their IPO, have more patents and have more citations to their patents. Our results suggest that VCs invest in riskier and more innovative startups in hot markets (rather than just worse firms). This is true even for the most experienced VCs. Furthermore, our results suggest that the flood of capital in hot markets also plays a causal role in shifting investments to more novel startups - by lowering the cost of experimentation for early stage investors and allowing them to make riskier, more novel, investments.

JEL Classification: G24, G32, O31 Key Words: Venture Capital, Innovation, Market Cycles, Financing Risk “Our willingness to fail gives us the ability and opportunity to succeed where others may fear to tread.” - Vinod Khosla on his venture firms innovative success.

I. Introduction It is well known that the financing available for startups that commercialize new technologies is extremely volatile. These “investment cycles” have been extensively studied in the literature on venture capital (Gompers and Lerner (2004), Kaplan and Schoar (2005), Gompers et al.

(2008)), but have also been documented in historical work linking financial market activity to radical innovations in manufacturing, communications and transportation going back to the mid 1700s (Kindleberger (1978); Perez (2002)). Conventional wisdom and much of the popular literature tends to associate these cycles with negative attributes. Herding among investors is believed to lead to an excess supply of capital in the market (Scharfstein and Stein (1990)), lowering the discipline of external finance and leading to more “junk” and “me-too” ventures getting financed in hot markets (Gupta (2000)).

However, an alternative view suggests that periods of heated activity in the financing of startups may also be associated with better investment opportunities (Gompers et al. (2008), Pastor and Veronesi (2005)). In addition, Nanda and Rhodes-Kropf (2011) argue that the abundance of capital in such times may also allow investors to experiment more effectively, thereby shifting the type of startups that investors finance towards those that are neither better nor worse but more risky and innovative.

According to this latter view, the abundance of capital associated with investment cycles may not just be a response to the arrival of new technologies, but may in fact play a critical role in driving the commercialization and diffusion of new technologies. It also suggests that looking only at the failure rates for firms funded in hot markets is not sufficient to infer that more “junk” is funded in such times. Greater failures can also result from more experimentation, so that simultaneously examining the degree of success for the firms that did not fail may be key to distinguishing between a purely negative view of investment cycles and one that suggests it also facilitates experimentation.

We study the ultimate outcome for venture capital-backed startups that were first funded between 1980 and 2004. We find that startups receiving their initial funding in quarters when many other startups were also funded were less likely to IPO (and more likely to go bankrupt) than those founded in quarters when fewer firms were funded. Conditional on being successful enough to go public, however, startups funded in more active periods were valued higher on the day of their IPO, had a higher number of patents and received more citations to their patents.





Our results suggest that more novel, rather than just “worse” firms, seem to be funded in boom times.1 We further examine whether more novel firms being funded in boom times is being driven by the entry of different investors during these periods, or whether the same investors seem to change their investments across the cycle. When we include investor fixed effects our estimations suggest that the results are not being driven by uninformed investors entering during hot times, but rather by the current investors changing their investments. Furthermore, when we reduce the sample to those investors with greater than 25 investments from 1980-2004 (the most active 7%), we find that even the most experienced investors back riskier, more innovative startups in boom times.

An obvious question about the observed correlation between hot markets and the funding of more novel startups is whether the hot markets are purely a response to different investment opportunities where the type of startup is more novel, or whether the abundance of capital also changes the type of firm that investors are willing to finance in such times (independent The idea that worse projects are funded during hot times is likely true - we are suggesting that simultaneously riskier, more innovative projects are funded.

of the investment opportunities at different points in the cycle).

In order to shed light on this question, we exploit the fact that the supply of capital into the VC industry is greatly influenced by the asset allocation of limited partners putting money into ‘private equity’ more broadly. We therefore use an instrumental variables estimation strategy, where the number of startup firms financed in a given quarter is instrumented with a variable that measures the number of leveraged buyout funds that were raised in the 5-8 quarters before the firm was funded. The assumption is that the limited partners decisions to invest in buyout funds are uncorrelated with the opportunity set in early stage venture capital, since buyout funds focus on turnarounds of existing companies while early stage investors focus on new technologies and opportunities. However, the fact that limited partners allocate capital to the ‘private equity’ asset class as a whole leads fundraising by venture and buyout funds to be associated. Our instrumental variables approach should capture that part of the VC investments that are due to increases in capital unrelated to the investment opportunities available at the time for venture capital funds. Lagged buyout fundraising is used as an instrument to account for the fact that venture funds take 1-3 years to fully invest the capital in their funds and has the added advantage of further distancing the instrument from current VC opportunities. Our results are robust to this IV strategy, suggesting that after accounting for the level of investment due to differential opportunities in the cycle, increased capital in the industry seems to change the type of startup that VCs fund, towards firms that are more novel. This finding also holds when we include investor fixed effects, including for the most experienced investors. Thus, increased capital in the venture industry seems to alter how even the more experienced venture capitalists invest. These findings are consistent with a view that an abundance of capital causes investors to increase experimentation, making them more willing to fund risky and innovative startups in boom times (Nanda and Rhodes-Kropf (2011)).

Thus, our work is related to a growing body of work that considers the role of financial intermediaries on innovation and new venture formation (see Kortum and Lerner (2000), Hellmann (2002), Lerner et al. (2011), Sorensen (2007), Tian and Wang (2011), Hochberg et al.

(2007), Hellmann and Puri (2002), Mollica and Zingales (2007), Samila and Sorenson (2011), Bengtsson and Sensoy (2011)). Our results suggest that rather than just reducing frictions in the availability of capital for new ventures, investment cycles may play a much more central role in the diffusion and commercialization of technologies in the economy. Financial market investment cycles may create innovation cycles.

Our findings are also complementary to recent work examining how R&D by publicly traded firms responds to relaxed financing constraints (Brown et al. (2009), Li (2012)). While this work is focused on the intensive margin of R&D, our work examines how shifts in the supply of capital impacts the choice of firms that investors might choose to fund, thereby having a bearing on the extensive margin of innovation by young firms in the economy.

Our results are also related to a growing body of work examining the relationship between the financing environment for firms and startup outcomes. Recent work has cited the fact that many Fortune 500 firms were founded in recessions as a means of showing how cold markets lead to the funding of great companies (Stangler (2009)). We note that our results are consistent with this finding. In fact, we document that firms founded in cold markets are significantly more likely to go public. However, we propose that hot markets may not only lead to lower discipline among investors, but also seem to facilitate the experimentation that is needed for the commercialization and diffusion of radical new technologies. Hot markets allow investors to take on more risky investments, and may therefore be a critical aspect of the process through which new technologies are commercialized. Our results are therefore also relevant for policy makers who may be concerned about regulating the flood of capital during such investment cycles.

The rest of the paper is structured as follows. In Section 2, we develop our hypothesis around the relationship between financing environment and startup outcomes. In Section 3, we provide an overview of the Data that we use to test the hypothesis. We outline our empirical strategy and discuss our main results in Section 4. Section 5 concludes.

II. Financing Environment and Startup Outcomes Popular accounts of investment cycles have highlighted the large number of failures that stem from investments made in good times and noted that many successful firms are founded in recessions. A natural inference is that boom times lower the discipline of external finance and lead investors to make worse investments when money is chasing deals. The underlying assumption behind this inference is that as the threshold for new firms to be founded changes in boom times, so that the marginal firm that gets funded is weaker. Looking at the average pool of entrants is therefore sufficient to understand how the change in the financing environment for new firms is associated with the type of firm that is funded.

However, understanding the extent to which a firm is weaker ex ante is often very difficult for venture capital investors, who may be investing in new technologies, as-yet-non-existent markets and unproven teams. In fact, much of venture capitalist’s successes seem to stem from taking informed bets with startups and effectively terminating investments when negative information is revealed about these firms (Metrick and Yasuda (2010)). For example, Sahlman (2010) notes that as many as 60% of venture-capitalist’s investments return less that their cost to the VC (either through bankruptcy or forced sales) and that about 10% of the investments – typically the IPOs – effectively make all the returns for the funds. Sahlman points to the example of Sequoia Capital, that in early 1999 “placed a bet on an early stage startup called Google, that purported to have a better search algorithm” (page 2). Sequoia’s $12.5 million investment was worth $4 billion when they sold their stake in the firm in 2005, returning 320 times their initial cost.

Google was by no means a sure-shot investment for Seqoia Capital in 1999. The search algorithm space was already dominated by other players such as Yahoo! and Altavista, and Google may just have turned out to be a “me too” investment. In fact, Bessemer Ventures, another renowned venture capital firm had the opportunity to invest in Google because a friend of partner David Cowan had rented her garage to Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. On being asked to meet with the two founders, Cowan is said to have quipped, “Students?

A new search engine?... How can I get out of this house without going anywhere near your garage?” (http://www.bvp.com/portfolio/antiportfolio.aspx) In fact, Bessemer ventures had the opportunity to, but chose not to invest in several other such incredible successes, including Intel, Apple, Fedex, Ebay and Paypal.



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