Home Venture Capital Corporate Investors Fill Startup Funding Gap as VC Firms Pull Back

Corporate Investors Fill Startup Funding Gap as VC Firms Pull Back

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Corporations are stepping up funding for enterprise-technology startups amid a broader slowdown in venture-capital deals, investors say.

The upturn comes as large institutional investors such as hedge and pension funds retreat from risky bets on nascent tech companies. Traditional venture-capital firms are also pulling back on funding startups.

“But we’re seeing large corporations continue to invest,” Christophe Bourque, general partner at investment firm White Star Capital, said Tuesday at a panel at Collision 2022, a startup and investing conference in Toronto. “We’ve seen a lot of this across our portfolio companies,” Mr. Bourque said.

The situation is unusual, he noted. Corporate investors typically have a reputation for only backing startups in good times, “and times aren’t so good, ” he said.

The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite Index last week slumped to its lowest close since September 2020 though it rallied 2.5% Tuesday. Similar declines are rippling across the startup sector, where many tech companies have pivoted from the pursuit of hypergrowth to survival, cutting jobs and revenue projections.

Fellow panelist Anis Uzzaman, founder and chief executive at Pegasus Tech Ventures, said he is seeing more corporate support for tech startups as part of companies’ research and development funding strategies.

Beyond capital, many corporations are providing startups with business insights, access to networks of potential customers and other resources—a role that has long been played by venture-capital investors. “Corporates have taken over that role,” said Mr. Uzzaman. “Startups love corporate money because they also get guidance.”

For their part, Mr. Uzzaman said, corporate investors often hope early investments will lead to a better position to acquire startups with sought-after technology, getting a jump on competitors.

Corporate investors can be early testers of a startup’s products and services, making them both commercial customers and partners, said another panelist, Andrea Johnson, partner in law firm Dentons’s venture technology group. She said a rise in corporate startup investing could help startups weather the economic slump.

“Great companies can be built during a downturn,” Ms. Johnson said.

At the same time, she said, startups that rely too much on corporate funding risk being left out in the cold if their corporate backer were to acquire a competitor.

Also, because of their size and influence, corporate investors can have undue influence on a startup’s board of directors, Ms. Johnson said. That can result in a startup being strong-armed to provide products and services at a discount—or even agreeing to be acquired for a lower price than a competitor might pay.

Write to Angus Loten at angus.loten@wsj.com

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