Los Angeles Venture Activity Was Up in Q3, Despite Early Concerns

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. 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.

Los Angeles Venture Activity Was Up in Q3, Despite Early Concerns

Key takeaways:

  • Exit activity saw a major uptick nationally, recording the second highest exit values on record in Q3.
  • Local exit flow was the second lowest going back to 2014, but experts say there's little reason for concern
  • L.A. saw fewer deals in Q3 than anytime since 2016, but also the highest amount of capital invested since that year, showing a preference for quality over quantity
  • 2020 is on pace to establish a record high for total capital raised for VC funds, but big funds are having most of the success while smaller funds are struggling

Despite predictions of a black swan event amid the worst pandemic in a century that shows little sign of improving soon, venture capital exit activity saw a major uptick in the third quarter, according to the PitchBook-National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) Venture Monitor released Tuesday. Dealmaking and fundraising were both also robust in Los Angeles and beyond.

"L.A. had a very strong quarter," said PitchBook VC Analyst Kyle Stanford. "Los Angeles has completed the third highest number of deals in 2020, behind only San Jose/San Francisco and New York."

If there was weakness to be found, it would be that much of the action is taking place at later stages and bigger funds, not the younger companies and newer funds that dominate Los Angeles. Seed fundraising was anemic in the last quarter. Through Q3, $1.9 billion has been raised across 30 first time funds representing a record low of 3.3% of total capital raised.

Los Angeles saw the fewest number of deals in Q3 since 2016, but also the highest amount of capital invested since that year, mostly due to the nearly $2 billion Elon Musk's SpaceX raised in August. Companies that flourished during the stay-at-home economy also benefited, such as Zwift, a Long-Beach based online fitness platform that raised nearly half a billion dollars in Series C funding last month.

Investors say they were determined to focus more on quality over quantity, paying a premium to fund top startups for the long haul.

"This continues a trend that we were experiencing before COVID, which is larger seed rounds to support a longer runway," said Mark Mullen, co-founder and managing director of Bonfire Ventures, a Santa Monica-based B2B seed fund that closed a $100 million second fund last month. "Now with COVID and its current and unknown long-term economic effects investors are focusing even more on fewer companies and providing more runway to those companies."

As the stock market surged in the third quarter, companies like Snowflake, Palantir, Asana, and Unity had wildly successful IPOs, putting this year on pace to a record year for exit values, behind only last year.

L.A. saw a number of significant exits like Signal Sciences, which was acquired for $775 million in August. Blockfolio, a financial management platform, was acquired for $150 million in August. Sense360, a data insights platform, was acquired for $44 million last month.

But overall exit flow was the second lowest going back to 2014, except for the fourth quarter of last year. Still, investors caution that quarterly data should always be taken with a healthy dose of salt.

"It is just a quarter out of tens of quarters," Mullen said. "Deals go up and down in different periods. We have had three profitable exits in the last six months in L.A., which is our most in a six-month period. M & A in the world was way down in Q2 and Q3 due to COVID and is now having a resurgence."

Mullen added an optimistic note. "You may see a record Q4 and Q1 2021," he predicted.

As LPs seek out growth in a low-interest rate environment that looks like it will last for years, venture funds have raised a record $56.6 billion across 228 vehicles since the beginning of the year, which is already more than the $54.9 billion raised in all of last year. But big established funds like Greylock Partners Fund XVI of $1.0 billion and Meritech Capital Partners' Fund VII of $817.9 million are eating up most of the pie, while first time funds face a "herculean task" to raise capital, according to the NVCA.

"The consolidation of capital continues toward larger, later stage companies and established VC funds," said Bobby Franklin, president & CEO of NVCA, in a written statement. "While both of these trends are potential signs of concern for the long-term health of the VC lifecycle, overall the ecosystem has shown strong resiliency in the past six months."

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom Vetoes California ‘BitLicense’ Bill To Regulate Crypto Exchanges

Steve Huff
Steve Huff is an Editor and Reporter at dot.LA. Steve was previously managing editor for The Metaverse Post and before that deputy digital editor for Maxim magazine. He has written for Inside Hook, Observer and New York Mag. Steve is the author of two official tie-ins books for AMC’s hit “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul.” He’s also a classically-trained tenor and has performed with opera companies and orchestras all over the Eastern U.S. He lives in the greater Boston metro area with his wife, educator Dr. Dana Huff.
Gov. Gavin Newsom Vetoes California ‘BitLicense’ Bill To Regulate Crypto Exchanges
State Attorney Alleges Gov. Newsom Interfered in Activision Lawsuit

California isn’t getting its version of the New York BitLicense bill anytime soon after all. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill Friday.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tim Grayson out of Vallejo, passed by the state assembly in a 71-0 vote at the beginning of September. Like New York State’s 2015 BitLicense legislation, AB 2269 would have set out requirements for the behavior of crypto exchanges such as Coinbase or Binance. Additionally, California crypto exchanges would’ve been prevented from trafficking in stablecoins (cryptocurrencies pegged to the value of an asset like the Yen, dollar, or Euro) without a license to do so.

Gov. Newsom explained his veto in a Sept. 23 message to the Assembly. The governor stated that while he shared “the author's intent to protect Californians from potential financial harm,” his administration “has conducted extensive research and outreach to gather input on approaches that balance the benefits and risk to consumers, harmonize with federal rules, and incorporate California values such as equity, inclusivity, and environmental protection.”

“It is premature to lock a licensing structure in statute,” the statement continued, “without considering both this work and forthcoming federal actions.” Newsom said it’s necessary for the government to be flexible “to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.”

It’s refreshing that a government official knows how legislation connected to new technology can fall short as the tech evolves. Still, Gov. Newsom also pointed out that AB 2269 would’ve cost “tens of millions of dollars for the first several years” out of the state’s general fund—something unaccounted for in the state’s yearly budget.

Rep. Tim Grayson responded to Newsom’s action via tweet, writing in part that the crypto “market is under-regulated at best and deliberately rigged against everyday consumers at worst. A financial market cannot be considered healthy if there are no guardrails in place to protect consumers from scams & bad actors.”

California’s legislators haven’t been alone in examining ways to bring some discipline into the cryptocurrency wilderness. In 2022 alone, Oklahoma passed HB 3279, and Utah passed (and signed into law) SB 182—both bills intended to create regulatory schemes and give state agencies the power to control any business related to digital currency.

Additionally, the White House released a statement on Sept. 16 outlining a “Comprehensive Framework for Responsible Development of Digital Assets,” which was a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s Executive Order from March 9, which was intended to ensure the responsible use of digital assets.

While Gov. Newsom’s veto means California is avoiding additional and possibly costly crypto regulations, for now, the tide nationwide seems to be turning in favor of putting rules in place to protect crypto investors. Given that in June, the Federal Trade Commission reported over $1 billion in losses to cryptocurrency scams since the beginning of 2021, some might say new regulations protecting consumers are overdue.