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How Startups and Investors Can Thrive in the Current Economic Environment




Today’s macro-economic environment has changed significantly and we see the signs everywhere. There’s an obvious economic slowdown, the stock market has declined, and recent reports of layoffs – especially in the tech sector – point to a looming recession. Despite the negative elements of such an economy, it also presents an opportunity for smart startup founders and savvy investors to thrive.

The impact of venture capital

It may be surprising how much venture capital (VC) investing impacts the global economy. Forbes reports that VC investing used to be very risky; even as it has grown, in the U.S., it accounts for only 0.8% of the gross domestic product, compared to about 5% for the private equity industry. The numbers are even smaller in the United Kingdom and Europe. Despite that, between 1980 and 2020, about 39% of all IPOs were venture-backed; VC-based companies have also been proven to grow more than two times as fast as their non-VC-backed peers over a ten-year horizon.

Data also shows that VC investing drives innovation and employment. Public companies with VC funding account for 44% of U.S. public companies’ research and development spending. Over ten years, employment by VC-based startups increased by 475% compared to 230% for the control group.

In my experience, startups are typically funded by the founder at first and later with the help of family, friends or angel investors. Beyond that, VCs often provide the additional capital needed for a startup to expand its market and scale to new geographies. VC firms are composed of experienced investors who provide not only funding but also valuable advice — helping startups avoid typical mistakes and connecting them with corporate partners to move their business forward.

Many of the most valuable companies in the U.S. were funded by venture capital. These include Pegasus investments in Airbnb, SpaceX, Stripe, DoorDash, Instacart and Robinhood.

Related: Why Some Startups Succeed (and Why Most Fail)

Succeeding in this environment

How should investors make decisions in this environment? I recommend they invest in stable, high-quality companies with limited debt, strong balance sheets and good cash flow. It’s ideal if the companies are in stable sectors that are expected to grow. Now is not the time for highly speculative investments, and it’s not the time to bet on highly leveraged startups. A reasonable debt-to-equity ratio — comparing liabilities to equity — indicates that companies are not taking on unnecessary risk in an attempt to grow.

A recessionary economy changes the game for both startups and VC firms. Since funding may be less available, startups need to refine their business strategy and be disciplined in spending money, making the companies more sustainable in the long term. Entrepreneurs may see it as riskier to start a business. Still, startup hiring becomes easier at the same time, given the number of tech layoffs in the corporate section, such as those at Meta, Amazon and Twitter in recent months.

This environment presents opportunities for investors to fund startups at better pricing than during the booming economy. Deals are typically less competitive, and lower valuations mean that investors get more for their investments. VCs also need to be extra careful to conduct due diligence to ensure their chosen investments are worthwhile.

In my experience, I’ve seen up to 30% lower pricing in venture investments during a down economy, spanning from the seed-round stage to later rounds. This reinforces that a slow macro economy helps VCs get good deals, and the pricing of shares tends to stabilize in such an environment — giving investors more peace of mind than they would otherwise have.

Related: Diverse Hiring and Inclusive Leadership Is How Startups Thrive

Act now to benefit

Despite the bad news in today’s economic environment, I recommend that startups refine their business strategy and that VCs take advantage of less competition to invest. Many successful companies were founded in recessionary times, so smart founders and investors can each benefit by actively participating despite the perceived risks.

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