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Here’s how to survive the VC winter, according to EY’s U.S. venture capital leader

November 18, 2022, 10:40 AM UTC
In a downturn, companies that offer must-have, cost-saving products are best placed to attract investors.
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After a record-breaking year in 2021, the venture capital marketplace has slowed this year, and it will likely remain cool in 2023 due to inflation, rising interest rates, and geopolitical uncertainties.

But the news isn’t all dour.

Despite volatile market conditions, 2022 is already the second-highest venture capital investment year on record. Total investment will likely hit the $200 billion mark for the second year in a row, making this year the fifth successive year of total investment over $100 billion, according to our analysis of Crunchbase data. Plus, venture capitalists have raised $151 billion for new venture funds in just three quarters this year, which means there are record amounts of capital sitting on the sidelines to fund further innovation. In fact, according to trend, 2022 will be the fifth straight year of record-breaking fund formation results.

Three ways to stand out

In this environment–where recessionary pressures and inflation meet increased levels of capital looking for investments–how can you tell if your company is a viable funding candidate? In reviewing recent entrepreneur success stories, here are three keys that stand out:

Your company should be indispensable, not discretionary

Consumers and companies are struggling to manage in a slumping economy. Can your business help? If your company provides a tool, platform, or service that enables customers to streamline operations or reduce expenses, you’ll have a better opportunity to raise capital.

If you offer this kind of product, ensure its “must have” value proposition is clear to investors, including data that backs up the kind of resources that customers can expect to save–not necessarily just in capital, but in time and workforce. Make it quantifiable and offer compelling customer testimonials.

These products strengthen customers’ abilities to weather an economic slowdown, making the companies that make this kind of product more attractive to investors than companies that offer “nice to have” goods and services.

Your business must be capital-efficient and able to thrive in good times and bad

During challenging economic periods, investors seek opportunities that aren’t reliant on large amounts of capital to fund expensive customer acquisition strategies that take time and can fade in adverse environments.

If your model requires large amounts of capital, can you pivot to a strategy that enables your company to be more capital-efficient and show a quicker path to profitability?

Your business will benefit from a link to sustainability or clean energy

The investment community is eager to support emerging companies that can provide innovative sustainability solutions to the marketplace. In the first nine months of this year, the energy sector raised what it did in all of 2021, according to our analysis of Crunchbase data. The recent and proposed legislation is adding impetus.

The recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act–which includes more than $360 billion for energy and climate change programs, along with big tax incentives to advance renewable energy and electric vehicles (EVs)–will help keep investments in this sector strong for the foreseeable future.

In addition, the SEC’s proposed climate disclosure rule–released in March 2022 and crafted to give investors a more thorough understanding of the implications of climate change on the operations of publicly held companies–will have companies clamoring for greener ways of doing business.

We’ve seen investment rounds for companies that offer compelling “out of the box” sustainability plays, such as those that create fashion from post-consumer waste, and there has been strong funding for a whole assortment of climate-tech companies, such as sustainable nuclear energy and EV charging infrastructure companies.

Be ready to showcase how your company helps solve an important environmental issue or is comparatively more earth-friendly than a previous operational practice. Articulate the magnitude of the market. If your product solution is also economical, that’s a bonus.   

Other ways to increase your fundability

Even if your business doesn’t operate in a favored sector or meet one of these three key elements, you don’t have to wait indefinitely to raise funds. To succeed, you need to come to the table with more proof of value than is necessary during good times–for example, a growing customer base, revenue momentum, or improving cash flow.

Now is the time to focus on serving your existing customers and adding value, not on risky investments in new facilities or unproven markets. Look for ways to free up working capital and reduce costs. Investors will be impressed if you can demonstrate good results during tough times.

You’ll need a realistic growth plan and go-to-market strategy that show you are adapting to current market conditions. Pie-in-the-sky projections will be obvious to venture capitalists who are being especially selective with new investments.

It’s also important to be efficient in your capital raise. Make an extra effort to move interested investors to a “yes” by helping them learn as much as they can about your company as quickly as possible, supporting their due diligence, introducing members of your leadership team, and setting up meetings with key customers.

Move on from investors who are sitting on their hands and prioritize those who show an eagerness to learn more. If you aren’t getting traction, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few months off from fundraising to focus on your core business.

Tough times are often when true leaders surge forward. If your company is well-positioned for success, investors will take notice.

Jeffrey Grabow is the EY U.S. venture capital leader. The views reflected in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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