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At the start of the pandemic, venture capital-backed startups faced the difficult question of whether to take emergency federal funding aimed at keeping employees on payroll at small businesses.
On one hand, yes the Payroll Protection Program could keep startup workers in a job. But on the other hand, public and regulatory perception threatened to sour against startups that took PPP funding even as mom-and-pop shops were squeezed out. Those concerns came to a fore when burger chain Shake Shack was heavily criticized for taking a loan, and later said it would return those funds.
In the end, many startups and their venture capitalist fell on “don’t take it unless you absolutely need it—lest you suffer the reputational fallout”—leading to some 9,700 eventually taking PPP funding, according to data from CB Insights released Tuesday.
With the intense anxiety surrounding taking the funding and that unofficial rule of operation in mind, I’d assumed that the venture capital-backed companies that took funding were the ones in the most absolute of dire straits. So it’s worth asking, how have these companies done amid the pandemic?
CB Insights took a data dive, a-year and-and-a-half later, as the program has disbursed close to $800 billion across the country to small businesses. Here’s what they found:
- Just 30 of the 9,674 companies have gone out of business since receiving their PPP loan, including trading platform, Quantopian.
- 1,762 of these businesses went on to raise a new round of funding, for a total of $47.7 billion since receiving PPP loans.
- Some 17 went on to become unicorns, including stock trading app maker, Public, robotics company Locus Robotics, and Amerpity, a customer data company.
- 99 went public, with 57 of those in the form of mergers with special purpose acquisition companies.
In short, with the unexpected and bizarre surge in venture capital funding that has exceeded all historical records, it looks like startups that received PPP funding seem to have done quite well since.
Those numbers are a good sign in the sense that companies are likely hiring rather than firing. But it has created a whole new debate replacing the question of whether to take PPP funding at all: Should startups that have since been able to raise additional funding keep PPP dollars?
So far, there is no clear consensus, though there are those that have returned funds: In an email to Term Sheet, Amperity CEO Kabir Shahani wrote his company has since given the loan back: “For us, the PPP was a safety net we hoped to pay back, and we did when we stabilized and had access to capital. We knew it was our responsibility to ensure we could return the funds to others in need.” And he’s not alone: A.I. software company C3.ai, which went public in December, returned its $6.3 million loan in Aug. 2020 also noting the PPP funding had helped keep employees on payroll. Public and Locus meanwhile have yet to respond to requests for comment.
TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company that went public in April meanwhile, noted in its IPO filing in April that it had applied for forgiveness of its $4.1 million PPP loan.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a venture capital startup taking a PPP loan—venture capital firms, after all, don’t have any obligation to actually keep employees on payroll and prop up a company that they don’t believe will maximize returns for their limited partners. But startups that do take PPP funding and later raise a significant amount of additional capital from private sources do run the risk of having to face tougher music.
Jessica Mathews compiled the IPO and SPAC sections of this newsletter.
- Nuvemshop, a Brazilian e-commerce platform, raised a $500 million Series E round of funding. Insight Partners and Tiger Global Management led the round and were joined by investors including Alkeon and Owl Rock.
- MOLOCO, Redwood City, Calif.-based an adtech startup, raised $150 million in Series C funding. Tiger Global Management led the round valuing it at $1.5 billion.
- Gelato, a Norway-based printing company, raised $240 million. Insight Partners led the round and was joined by investors including SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, SEB Pension Fund, and Tellef Thorleifsson (CEO of Norfund).
- Seismic, a San Diego-based sales software maker, raised $170 million. Permira led the round and was joined by investors including JMI Equity, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Jackson Square Ventures, Ameriprise, and T. Rowe Price Associates. It also acquired Lessonly, a training company.
- Hopper, a travel-booking company, raised $175 million in Series G funding. GPI Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Glade Brook Capital, WestCap, Goldman Sachs Growth, and Accomplice.
- Apollo GraphQL, a San Francisco-based open source and commercial API provider, raised $130 million in Series D funding. Insight Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Matrix Partners, and Trinity Ventures.
- Adverity, a marketing analytics tech company, raised $120 million. SoftBank's Vision Fund 2 led the round and was joined by investors including Sapphire Ventures.
- Xentral, a German ERP startup focused on small businesses, raised $75 million in Series B funding. Tiger Global and Meritech led the round and were joined by investors including Sequoia Capital, Visionaries Club, and Freigeist.
- Monte Carlo, a San Francisco-based data reliability company, raised $60 million in Series C funding. ICONIQ Growth led the round and was joined by investors including Salesforce Ventures, Accel, GGV Capital, and Redpoint Ventures.
- Rapido, an Indian bike taxi startup, raised $52 million in Series C funding. Investors included Shell Ventures, Yamaha, Kunal Shah of CRED, Amarjit Singh Batra of Spotify India, and Positive Moves Consulting.
- BrainQ, an Israel-based maker of a device to stimulate self-repair in the brain, raised $40 million. Hanaco Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Dexcel Pharma and Peregrine Ventures.
- Tropic, a New York City-based platform for companies to buy software, raised $25 million in Series A funding. Canaan Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Founder Collective and Shine Capital.
- Ultrahuman, a London-based metabolic fitness platform, raised $17.5 million in Series B funding. Alpha Wave Incubation led the round and was joined by investors including Falcon Edge, Steadview Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, Blume Ventures, and iSeed fund.
- Baffle, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based cloud data protection company, raised $20 million in Series B funding. Celesta Capital led the round and was joined by investors including National Grid Partners, Lytical Ventures, and Nepenthe Capital, as well as True Ventures, Greenspring Associates, Clearvision Ventures, Engineering Capital, and Triphammer Ventures.
- Element5, a San Jose, Calif.-based automation company focused on post-acute care, raised $15 million in Series A funding. Insight Partners led the round.
- Pngme, a San Francisco and Africa-based fintech company, raised $15 million in Series A funding. Octopus Ventures led the round.
- KARE, a Houston-based digital marketplace for senior care and post acute care facilities, raised $7.9 million. Golden Section Ventures led the round.
- Privacy4Cars, an Atlanta, Ga.-based startup focused on cybersecurity in the automotive ecosystem, raised $2.2 million in Series A funding. First Move Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Automotive Ventures.
- Insight Partners invested in DistroKid, a New York City-based distributor of independent music, valuing it at $1.3 billion.
- CVC Capital Partners agreed to acquire Stock Spirits (LON: STCK), a London-based vodka maker, for about $1 billion.
- Anexinet, a portfolio company of Mill Point Capital, agreed to acquire Light Networks, an Atlanta-based provider of customer experience. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- GenServe, a portfolio company of GenNx360 Capital Partners, acquiredLJ Power, an Austin-based provider of maintenance and repair services to generators. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and BC Partners acquired CeramTec, a ceramics company focused on the medical tech industry, from BC European Capital X. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Mechanix Wear, backed by Gryphon Investors, acquired Chicago Protective Apparel , a Skokie, Ill.-based maker of manufacturer of personal protective equipment. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- L Squared Capital Partners acquired Crane 1, a Miamisburg, Oh.-based provider of crane services, from Pfingsten. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Nexa Equity invested in AutoReturn, a San Francisco-based provider of towing and parking enforcement software. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Odyssey Investment Partners acquired Painters Supply & Equipment, a distributor of paint, coatings. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Pavement Partners, backed by Shoreline Equity Partners, acquired Dominion Paving & Sealing, a Purcellville, Va.-based provider of pavement services. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Spectra, backed by Vance Street Capital, acquired Galleon, a Norway-based computing solution provider. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Topspin Consumer Partners invested in Coop Home Goods, a Pico Rivera, Calif.-based maker of memory-foam pillows. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- The Jordan Company agreed to acquire Arclin, a Roswell, Ga.-based maker of bonding and surfacing products, from Lone Star Funds. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Saudi Aramco is in talks to buy a 2o% stake in the oil refining and chemicals business of India’s Reliance Industries, per Bloomberg. A deal could be worth up to $25 billion.
- Cobham will acquire Ultra Electronics (LON:ULE), a U.K.-based provider of tech software to the defense industry, for about 2.6 billion pounds ($3.7 billion).
- Future (LON: FUTR) will acquire Dennis Publishing, the magazine producer behind "The Week" and "Moneyweek" for about 300 million pounds ($415.4 million).
- Roblox (NYSE: RBLX) acquired Guilded, a maker of a chat service for gamers. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- SenseTime Group, a Hong Kong-based AI technology company, is arranging an IPO in the region, and plans to raise approximately $2 billion, per Bloomberg. SoftBank backs the firm.
- Syniverse Technologies, a Tampa, Fla.-based mobile network and technology company backed by Carlyle Group, will go public via a merger with M3-Brigade Acquisition II Corp., a SPAC. A deal would value the company at $2.85 billion.
- Nyca Partners, a New York City-based fintech-focused venture capital firm, named Tom Brown as a partner in San Francisco.
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