The numbers are in, and the venture capital parade is largely passing by the greater Washington region — proof is in quarterly investment data from the PwC Money Tree Survey and the National Venture Capital Association.
Although some observers crunched the numbers and concluded that the level of investment in our region was “strong” or “on pace,” the story is more nuanced and frankly more negative — if you believe venture capital is the primary way for our region to grow its tech community.
Here’s the reality of venture investing in our region: it’s anemic. In 2015, venture capital investment in the United States is projected to exceed $70 billion — the second-largest annual venture capital investment level ever. That’s right… since the beginning of time. There has only been one year when venture capital funding was larger than it will be this year, and that was 2000.
In 2000, the greater Washington region received approximately 6 percent of all venture capital money invested, and in certain areas – notably telecommunications and new media advertising – the percentages were higher.
By comparison, this year, the region is on track to receive approximately 1.5 percent of U.S. venture capital funding. Problem is, there isn’t the same level of concentration as in 2000 — not one critical or essential core technology industry driving our regional venture capital utilization, as there was in 2000.
Here’s what should be noted about the top 10 largest deals in the D.C. region during the third quarter: First of all, the largest deals were not technology at all.They were investments in consumer food businesses such as Sweetgreen and Cava Grill.
The remaining businesses enjoying venture capital were primarily software of various types and models, including Red Owl Analytics and Digital Signal, noteworthy as the two companies most closely aligned with our region’s core technology vertical, national security.
The last observation is that the substantial majority of venture dollars spent in our region were in later stage deals and much of that money was coming from out of region. The deal syndicates reflected that if a company could grow its business to the point of national expansion, out-of-region investors will come and invest in our companies. While we may not qualify as part of a Sinatra song – “if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere” – we are certainly a place with plenty of money to help scale towards an exit if an entrepreneur can find a way to grow a business with customers and revenue.
Rather than continually look at venture capital investing in our region as “healthy” or “on pace” we should be more truthful with ourselves. The venture capital industry is not pouring money into our region. But, that’s nothing new. It has not done so for years. Nevertheless, if you look at the Inc. 500 list of fastest- growing private companies, the capital region always has a large, if not the largest, concentration of companies on the list.
If we’re looking at venture capital as the bellwether for how our region is doing as an entrepreneurial hub, we’re missing the story.
Let’s stop telling ourselves fairy tales about how much better life will be once we attract more venture capital, and instead examine why our region is doing so well without an abundance of it. The answer, as Shakespeare might have told us, “is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and chairman of Amplifier Ventures, a venture capital fund focusing on national security technology innovation. He is co-host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program.