Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Venture Capital

Startup Funding Deals Fall to Lowest Level in Four Years

Venture capitalists are making fewer bets and focusing their investing on more mature companies, such as Snapchat and Lyft.

Venture capitalists made fewer bets in the U.S. last quarter, while putting a larger proportion of their money into the most mature private companies, according to research firm PitchBook Data. The findings show that venture investors are trying to play it safe by backing proven businesses, making it more difficult for newer startups to find capital.

Last quarter had the fewest number of venture deals in four years. Funding rounds dropped 12 percent compared with the fourth quarter of 2015, when startup funding began to slow. Investments totaled $17.7 billion in the first quarter of 2016, about flat with the prior period. More than half of that went to late-stage companies.

Private investors are expressing skepticism as startup valuations have skyrocketed. Mutual fund companies have written down the value of their stakes in numerous technology companies since last year. Startups are staying private longer, leaving fewer options for shareholders to cash out. No tech company went public last quarter, and many of those that did in 2015 have gotten off to a rocky start.

In other countries, there's plenty of money to go around. Venture capital investments in China and India surged in the first quarter, jumping about 50 percent, according to consulting firm Preqin Ltd.

While competition for capital among younger U.S. startups intensifies, larger ones have been able to keep raising megadeals. Lyft Inc., the largest U.S. ride-hailing company behind Uber Technologies Inc., said it raised $1 billion in January. Messaging app Snapchat Inc. raised $175 million from Fidelity Investments last quarter, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the investment wasn't disclosed. And large funding rounds are expected to continue. Gaming startup Unity Technologies Inc. is seeking an investment that would value the company at $1.5 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

Meanwhile, U.S. venture capital firms saw their own fundraising decline 9.4 percent to $10.6 billion last quarter, according to PitchBook. However, the number of venture funds that closed last quarter increased 19 percent.

—With Sarah Frier

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