Investment Cycles and Startup Innovation

by Ramana Nanda & Matthew Rhodes-Kropf

Overview — In this paper, HBS professors Nanda and Rhodes-Kropf examine how the environment in which a new venture was first funded relates to its ultimate outcome, by specifically looking at what happened to venture capital-backed startups funded between 1980 and 2004. Results show that firms that were funded in "hot" markets were more likely to fail but created more value and had more highly cited patents when they succeeded. These results suggest that that flood of capital in hot markets lowers the cost of experimentation for early stage investors, and therefore allows them to fund more novel projects in periods of heated financial activity. Key concepts include:

  • Experimentation and innovation are linked to the state of the venture capital market.
  • Even the most experienced investors invest in riskier and more innovative projects at the top of the cycle.
  • Hot markets seem to facilitate the experimentation that is needed for the commercialization and diffusion of radical new technologies. Hot markets may therefore be a critical aspect of the process through which new technologies are commercialized.

Author Abstract

We find that VC-backed firms receiving their initial investment in hot markets are less likely to IPO, but conditional on going public are valued higher on the day of their IPO, have more patents and have more citations to their patents. Our results suggest that VCs invest in riskier and more innovative startups in hot markets (rather than just worse firms). This is true even for the most experienced VCs. Furthermore, our results suggest that the flood of capital in hot markets also plays a causal role in shifting investments to more novel startups - by lowering the cost of experimentation for early stage investors and allowing them to make riskier, more novel, investments.

Paper Information