How Many Investors are Still Writing Checks During Coronavirus? One VC is Trying to Find Out
Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior reporter, covering venture capital. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks. Follow him on Twitter.
When Laurent Grill, lead investor of the Santa Monica early stage venture fund Luma Launch, started emailing hundreds of fellow investors to see if they were still writing checks amidst the coronavirus pandemic, he was originally trying to find the next round of capital for one his own portfolio companies. But on Tuesday he decided to broaden his search and posted a query on LinkedIn.
"I reached out to hundreds of funds & am compiling a list across sectors and stages to help identify active investors in a time that is a bit unknown for all of us," Grill wrote.
Within hours, the post had gone viral.
"It's pretty overwhelming because I'm not an influencer," Grill told dot.LA Wednesday. "When I posted this, I didn't expect to have 500 notifications. My email box is unmanageable right now."
Grill quickly created Google forms to manage the rush of responses, one for investors and another for companies seeking capital. He plans to release the list next week.
"You had founders who are freaking out because their assumption is no one is investing." Grill said. "But investors are investing."
Luma Launch's Laurent Grill is cautiously optimistic about the state of VC investing.
Of the 150 responses he's received, only two investors have said they are not writing checks. They both wanted to see public markets stabilize before they jumped back in.
However, Grill sees the results as suspiciously positive, especially when investors insist that everything is "business as usual" amidst one of the most serious public health and economic crises of the last century.
"Something is off about that," said Grill. "I don't trust it."
He suspects deals have significantly declined, though no one wants to completely shut their doors. There are optics to consider and also the fear of overlooking the next great unicorn. "We live in an industry of FOMO, because if people aren't investing they are worried they are going to miss a deal," Grill said.
Ironically, Grill's Luma Launch, which he leads along with Matt Lydecker, is one of the firms that has paused investing. He says he wants to focus on getting their portfolio companies' house in order before deploying new capital.
"Our companies are dealing with how they're going to hit payroll," said Grill. "We have one company that has a case of coronavirus in it."
Grill says Luma is unique because it is corporate-backed and does not have a fund it has to deploy in a given timeframe. Founders needing money should find it somewhat reassuring that most firms still need to deploy their capital, though Grill worries about what conditions will look like in six months to a year from now when firms have to fundraise from limited partners who could have taken a severe hit in a broader economic downturn.
"If LP's are hurt, we're probably going to be looking at a long time before there's liquidity for fundraising," he said.
For now, Grill is focused on connecting founders and investors in the immediate crisis who might have a harder time meeting each other with offices closed, conferences cancelled, and face-to-face meetings postponed indefinitely.
"There's no benefit for me to do this, other than to help the community," Grill said. "We need people to step up who have the ability to step up."
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It's almost 90 degrees outside in Los Angeles as lines of cars pull up to Dodger Stadium, home to a mass vaccination site that opened Friday.
"Please make sure that they're not under the sun in the cart," Edith Mirzaian is telling a volunteer as she directs the person to put ice packs on coolers that hold up to 20 COVID vaccines. Mirzaian is a USC associate professor of clinical pharmacy and an operational lead at one of California's largest vaccination sites.
Dodger Stadium alone — once the nation's largest COVID-19 testing site — is slated to vaccine up to 12,000 people each day, county and city health officials said this week. Officials plan to finish vaccinating some 500,000 health care and assisted care employees by the end of this month before opening appointments up to people 65 and older.
Mirzaian is desperately trying to make sure that the vaccines don't spoil.
"We have to be the guardians of the vaccine," she said.
Earlier this month, hundreds of vaccinations were lost after a refrigerator went out in Northern California, forcing the hospital to rush to give out hundreds of doses. Mirzaian's task tells a larger story of the difficult and often daunting logistical process required to roll out a vaccine that requires cold temperatures.
"You know they can't be warm so just keep an eye out," she gently reminds the volunteer.
The volunteers and staff from USC, the Los Angeles Fire Department and Core Laboratories prepared enough doses to vaccinate around 2,000 residents on Friday and they plan to increase capacity each day after.
Local health officials are holding the vaccination syringes in coolers after they leave the air-conditioned trailers. The coolers are then covered in ice packs and wheeled on carts to clinicians administering shots to health care workers and nursing home staff eligible under the state's vaccination plan.
"Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement announcing the plan.
Health officials around the world are racing against time as the virus mutates and poses greater dangers.
"We have a little bit of borrowed time here right now because these variants are not here in great numbers from what we can tell," said Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor in clinical pathology at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Curbing the spread of the virus is a vital way to prevent mutant strains from developing, she said.
Mirzaian, who arrived at the site before it opened at 8 a.m., said that there were logistical challenges as volunteers scrambled to assemble what will likely be the hub of the region's vaccination efforts.
"It's challenging to make sure that everyone knows what the process is and what we're doing and what to tell the patients who receive the vaccines."
After a few hours, the procedure moved quicker.
Residents have to show identification and proof of employment before they're taken through a list of pre-screening questions and given the vaccine through their car window. They're required to then wait for 15 minutes while clinicians monitor them for side effects.
Mirzaian said the process took each car about an hour. While eligible residents can walk-in for vaccinations, she recommends they make appointments so that enough doses are made available each day.
"As long as people have their appointments, they will get in," she said. "We are ready. We are like an army ready to give vaccines."
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As part of the reorganization, Chief Strategy Officer Jared Grusd, who previously oversaw content, will become a strategic advisor to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.
As a casting director, Lacey Kaelani has a leading view on Hollywood's content pipeline. Based on what she's been seeing on her venture-backed casting platform, Casting Depot, prepare for a deluge of unscripted shows.
"It's all gonna be handheld videos where everything looks like a Zoom call," she said. "Dating shows, talk shows, food competition shows – that's what was cast and is going into production."
The Casting Depot launched its latest beta version on Friday, with a "six-figure" investment from global venture capital firm Antler. Its board includes leaders from companies including CAA, Airtime, iHeartMedia, WorkMarket and IAC.