Last week, The Information posted about the evolving of late stage funding of billion dollar and higher valued startups. Once dominated by venture capital, hedge funds and private equity firms, these later stage deals are now including retail facing asset managers like Fidelity and BlackRock. Among their analysis is that shares of Uber are being held by five Fidelity mutual funds. The result is that retail exposure to private technology deals, which had been reserved for institutional investors, is increasing.
Beyond just shares of Uber, further analysis of several of Fidelity’s funds, such as the OTC Portfolio Fund, shows a who’s who of startup names counted in their portfolio. Shares of private firms include Snapchat, Taboola, Twilio, WeWork, Pinterest, AppNexus, DataMinr, Redfin, Roku and many more. While overall percentage ownership of all these shares composes less than 1.5% of the total portfolio, they are becoming a greater part of the mutual fund’s investments.
From Public to Private
The evolving nature of technology funding takes place as growing startups are taking longer to go public. As a result, mutual fund managers who have been active in taking positions of IPOs, are now grabbing shares in funding rounds of private companies that are valued around the same level as to where firms typically go public.
According to data from venture capital fund Andreesen Horowitz, there are currently 61 ‘tech unicorns’ of private US firms that are valued above $1 billion. For firms, the advantage of going public in the past has been access to capital. However, with funding flowing easily, it has made for a stronger argument to stay private longer and reduce the regulatory and increased accounting requirements of being a public firm.
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Effects on Crowdfunding
The flow of mutual fund capital is also occurring at a time when investing in startups has opened up to a greater range of investors. In the UK and Europe, and more recently in the US, equity crowdfunding platforms are allowing retail investors to acquire shares in the fundraising of private companies. As such, more than just gaining exposure to startup shares through mutual funds, retail investors are able to purchase stakes directly through crowdfunding platforms.
For the overall equity crowdfunding market, the sector’s future could ultimately be tied to the performance of private shares within mutual fund portfolios. As an example, the Fidelity Blue Chip Growth fund currently counts two separate positions in Uber, with an aggregated value of about $175 million. Based on their portfolio from June 30th, 2015, depending on the calculation used for the positions, the valuation may rise well above $200 million and over 1% of the fund’s holdings, following reports that Uber closed another round of funding in July at a $50 billion valuation. An eventual successful IPO or further exits of private stakes, could be expected to increase the profile of investing in startups. For crowdfunding platforms, such a scenario bodes well with providing positive residual effects on the industry.
On the other hand, there is a risk that if mutual fund exposure to private shares backfires, it may create pressure against other firms from taking similar risks. In addition, even though retail exposure to private technology firms is minimal, potential losses come with increased likelihood of rising headline risks which would be expected to be a negative overhang on equity crowdfunding.
Ultimately, like private investments by mutual funds, equity crowdfunding will be graded by the types of returns they provide. However, as an emerging sector, both positive and negative headline risk connected to investing in private deals, has the potential to amplify the public’s view of equity crowdfunding.