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U.S. tech venture investing gets a boost from pandemic

OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) - Brian Bell, chief executive of Split Software, was in a meeting pitching investors when California announced the shelter-in-place policy to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in March. In the days that followed all of his meetings were delayed or canceled as venture capital investments froze.

FILE PHOTO: A banner for Snowflake Inc. is displayed celebrating the company's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., September 16, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

But since then things haven’t just thawed, they are boiling over. According to previously unreleased data from PitchBook, in the first nine months of 2020, U.S. venture capital firms invested $88.1 billion in tech startups, up from $82.3 billion in the first nine months of 2019. Tech investments represented 78% of venture capital investments last year and 74% in 2018.

Venture capitalists say $3 trillion in stimulus funding has investors looking to put cash to work, and top venture capital firms continue to launch massive funds. Greylock Partners, an early investor in Airbnb, started raising money for its latest fund during the pandemic and announced a billion-dollar fund in September. Lightspeed Venture Partners, the first outside investor in Snap, in April announced it raised more than $4 billion for three new funds to support early- and growth-stage startups.

Investors say they are betting the pandemic will have the lasting effect of pushing more economic activity online, making up for the businesses boarding up on Main Street. And they are investing in startups that aim to enable the further digitization of sectors like banking, retail and healthcare.

In recent weeks, fintech startups Next Insurance and Greenlight Financial Technology each raised well over $200 million, digital health insurance firm Bright Health raised $500 million, and Mirakl, which helps companies launch and scale e-commerce, raised $300 million.

Startups that provide security, infrastructure and artificial intelligence technology for the online world are also getting a boost. Transcend, which helps companies easily erase consumer data, raised $25 million over the summer in an early round backed by Index Ventures and Accel Partners. And Beyond Limits, an AI technology company for sectors including energy and healthcare, raised $113 million in September with another $20 million committed.

The enthusiasm is also seen in the appetite for tech IPOs. Sixteen went public in September alone, according to PitchBook, including data warehouse company Snowflake Inc. SNOW.N, which raised more than $3 billion in the largest U.S. listing so far this year.

Shardul Shah, a partner at Index Ventures, said the positive reception for tech IPOs is “encouraging people to swing for the fences.”

For Split, which helps app developers test and measure the impact of new features before wider rollouts, Bell said it didn’t take long to line up new investor meetings. Over the summer it was able to raise $33 million from at least eight VC firms including Accel Partners, an early investor in Facebook.

Accel’s Steve Loughlin said that by May, data from its startups made it clear that enterprise software and startups that could profit from the work-from-home shift would prosper.

Mark Leahy, a partner at Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West that crunches venture investment data, added that another sign of strength in venture funding is the number of early-stage investments. Earlier stage deals accounted for 59% of July financings, higher than the 55% monthly average in 2019. “That’s the beginning of growth and that’s what’s going to carry us into 2021.”

Reporting by Jane Lanhee Lee; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Leslie Adler

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