Buy Local? The Geography of Successful and Unsuccessful Venture Capital Expansion

by Henry Chen, Paul A. Gompers, Anna Kovner & Josh Lerner

Overview — From Silicon Valley to Herzliya, Israel, venture capital firms are concentrated in very few locations. More than half of the 1,000 venture capital offices listed in Pratt's Guide to Private Equity and Venture Capital Sources are located in just three metropolitan areas: San Francisco, Boston, and New York. More than 49 percent of the U.S.-based companies financed by venture capital firms are located in these three cities. This paper examines the location decisions of venture capital firms and the impact that venture capital firm geography has on investments and outcomes. Findings are informative both to researchers in economic geography and to policymakers who seek to attract venture capital. Key concepts include:

  • The success rate of venture capital investments in a region is an important determinant of venture capital firms' decisions to open new branches.
  • While venture capital firms in San Francisco, Boston, and New York City outperform, their outperformance is not driven by local investments. While their performance in investments everywhere is better than that of their peers based in different cities, the outperformance is particularly striking outside the cities where they have offices.
  • Interestingly, some of the performance disparity between local and nonlocal investments disappears when a venture firm does more than one investment in a region, suggesting that as the marginal monitoring cost falls, venture capital firms may reduce their expected success rate for investment in a distant geography.

Author Abstract

We document geographic concentration by both venture capital firms and venture capital-financed companies in three cities - San Francisco, Boston, and New York. We find that firms open new satellite offices based on the success rate of venture capital-backed investments in an area. Geography is also significantly related to outcomes. Venture capital firms based in locales that are venture capital centers outperform, regardless of the stage of the investment. Ironically, this outperformance arises from outsized performance outside of the venture capital firms' office locations, including in peripheral locations. Outperformance of non-local investments suggests that policy makers in regions without local venture capitalists might want to mitigate costs associated with established venture capitalists investing in their geographies rather than encouraging the establishment of new venture capital firms. 42 pages.

Paper Information