2020 has been a landmark year to watch for growth across sectors, with many companies inherently positioned to rally and thrive, and others barely able to get off the ground. This is especially the case when we look at technology M&A trends for the year.
The report contains lots of useful data and analysis that tracks M&A activity across tech verticals and across regions throughout 2020. Two key takeaways from the data emerge when looking looking at corporate venture investment and platform opportunities for the immediate post-COVID era and beyond:
Venture capital activity in tech is alive and well, even against the backdrop of the pandemic’s uncertainties. But it’s a mixed picture. Total deal size and total funding have remained at healthy levels and have even seen growth, with a 30% increase in deal size occurring in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. But the actual number of deals is in decline, at 25% fewer closed deals compared to the previous year.
Where has the money gone? VC firms hedged their bets this year, focusing on investing in later-stage (post-series B) ventures that show potential to thrive post-COVID. Valuations of those late-stage companies are also trending higher. Consequently, there’s been a shift away from first financings, leaving nascent startups to experience a serious capital crunch.
The flight to certainty in VC financings toward later-stage is no surprise, especially given VC jitters about another dot-com bubble scenario where startups fail en masse. Later-stage startups that have attracted the majors deals this year have proven their growth potential, are leaders in industries marked by a spike in consumer demand (such as FoodTech, which saw $8.4 billion in raised funding by Q3 2020 compared to 2019’s $7 billion), and represent a safer bet for VCs waiting to see how the dust settles post-COVID.
This shift away from early-stage financing creates a major opportunity for incumbents to find deals with earlier-stage companies. Given the accelerated shift to digital that Covid has also brought, incumbents today have a generational opportunity to accelerate their digital initiatives by partnering with, investing in or acquiring startups. While the valuations on late-stage startups have only gotten richer, as you’ll see below, the gap in early stage financing means that incumbents can find a unique combination of accelerated growth and real value in pursuing deals with earlier-stage startups in the current environment.
Some key data points on this from our 2020 In Review report [LINK] include:
Also, while eCommerce saw less capital raised YTD and a continued decline in deal volume, Big Data and FoodTech are two sectors to watch. Big Data saw a 72.6% increase in median deal volume YTD. In FoodTech, median valuations increased by an impressive 156.3%, includingInstacart’s $17.7 billion and DoorDash’s $16 billion respective PoMVs.
On the other hand, with the decline of early stage financing, early-stage ventures saw an acceleration in a trend that’s been in progress for the past 5 years. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a dominant new development platform that spurs on VC first financings à la iOS and Android (for at least the first half-decade after their release). And the early-stage venture capital famine was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the extra uncertainty that newer startups face in this kind of environment.
This year’s tech M&A trends suggest there’s substantial opportunity for corporate incumbents, who might be exploring how to buy a startup or invest in startups before IPO, to get in on promising early-stage ventures that carry a lower-than-usual risk given the decline in early-stage funding and valuations.
Throughout the year, the PLAT ETF (listed on the NYSE and recently rebranded as the WisdomTree Growth Leaders Fund) has been consistently outperforming the likes of the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100, despite the effects of COVID-19 across industries. This success suggests platform business models are resilient compared to the broader market – including other tech businesses.
PLAT is performing better in 2020 than its major tech ETF peers. In Q4 2020, we’ve seen it open up a substantial lead over the Invesco QQQ ETF, as well as the iShares U.S. Technology ETF (IYW) and the SPY.
The asset-light nature of platform businesses as well as their dominant market positions has made many of these companies particularly resilient during a downturn.
With natural advantages such as positive network effects, freedom from production burdens, and low marginal costs, top platforms are showing hardiness amid macroeconomic insults that have deeply hurt some leading traditional enterprises.
If this year has proved anything, it’s that being a tech company, or “tech-enabled,” hardly adds to survival odds under severe macroeconomic shocks. Business models and corporate innovation strategies matter.
Now that we’ve seen at least a few months of the impacts of the global pandemic on the tech M&A space, it’s clear that there’s still a major opportunity to invest in platform businesses, whether at the early stage or in public markets.
PLAT’s success demonstrated the resilience of platform business models during a major downturn. With the gap in early-stage financing, large enterprises have a chance to infuse their innovation efforts with talent and tech capabilities that can help them capture their own platform opportunities.
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