Armed with startup data, Crunchbase looks back on 2016 to predict what’s coming

No one has a crystal ball. Armed with loads of startup data, the research outfit Crunchbase has nevertheless churned through some numbers to create an interesting snapshot of what happened in 2016 — and what might happen in 2017 — by examining six distinct trends.

The first trend — and it’s given the most weight in the report — centers largely on where funding flowed worldwide. In fact, looking back, 2016 may well be viewed as a pivotal year in the globalization of venture capital and venture-backed startups.

The reason: the amount of venture dollars plugged into startups around the world last year grew 19 percent over 2015, with $176 billion invested altogether, says Crunchbase. Yet the story was very different in the U.S., where venture investments were off 11 percent from their 2015 levels, with U.S. based startups attracting $76 billion, down from $86 billion the year before.

An interesting side note: “Eighty-three percent of venture financing took place outside of Silicon Valley,” notes Jager McConnell, who joined Crunchbase as CEO last year when it spun out of AOL. (Silicon Valley and San Francisco attract roughly 40 percent of all U.S. venture dollars.)

Whether there’s a lasting or even growing disconnect between the U.S. and global data remains to be seen, but Crunchbase points to a variety of factors that are worth exploring to better understand what’s going on.

First, as its team notes, there were 40 fewer “unicorn” companies minted in the U.S. last year, unlike in 2015, when a privately held company was assigned a billion dollar or more valuation almost every three days. (There are currently 185 companies in the club.) That kind of pace was probably never going to be sustainable, and many would argue that that’s a good thing.

According to Crunchbase, seed and early-stage funding in the U.S., along with late-stage funding, also slowed down more broadly in 2016, after several years of investing that was so feverish that venture capitalists began raising new funds every two years. (Traditionally, they’ve raised new funds every three to four years.) Indeed, according to this new report, the number of seed rounds that closed in the U.S. last year fell 32 percent between the end of 2015 and the end of 2016. Meanwhile, early and late-stage rounds fell 6 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

That kind of slowdown domestically isn’t a surprise. With some notable exceptions, early-stage M&A was nothing to write home about last year, with many cash-rich companies sitting on the sidelines, waiting for valuations to fall further. Meanwhile, venture-backed IPO activity was weak overall, with U.S. offerings hitting a multi-year low.

More interesting is that while the U.S. cooled, other pockets of the globe warmed up. For example, four China-based companies – Lufax, Didi Chuxing, Xiaomi, and Ant Financial — now rank among the ten most valuable venture-backed, still-private companies in the world.

U.S.-based investors also contributed meaningfully to international growth markets last year. Crunchbase data shows several firms that are headquartered in Silicon Valley but have offices abroad like Sequoia Capital and Accel Partners made a growing number of bets in China and India last year (raising larger country-focused funds — and closing them faster than ever — in the process).

Other trends that Crunchbase examines in its newest report center on notable sectors, active metropolitan areas for entrepreneurship, the universities with the most ties to founders, and female founders.

It observes, for example, that transportation, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality sectors drew the most attention in last year — and by more attention, Crunchbase means capital.

Investors’ money certainly seemed to flow freely to select companies, including Didi, which raised $4.5 billion from investors in 2016, and its U.S.-based rival in ride sharing, Uber, which raised $3.7 billion. (Of course, the two also formed a kind of uneasy truce last August, when Uber sold Didi its China unit in exchange for a piece of Didi.)

Crunchbase’s new report also looks at which regions saw the most startup capital invested in local companies – a list led by Silicon Valley, Beijing, New York and India.

The survey also tracks the universities with the greatest number of affiliations with startup founders. In the U.S., Stanford grads will be happy to know that their alma mater topped the list last year in the U.S., with Wharton trailing closely behind, and HBS nabbing third place. Meanwhile, in Europe, Telecom ParisTech, Oxford, and Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology ranked as the three top European universities with the most ties with founders.

The last section of Crunchbase’s newest report centers on female founder trends, and it may be our favorite, in part because the research highlights a steady increase in the number of women in the top ranks of startups over the last seven years. Specifically, according to Crunchbase’s findings, just 9 percent of funded startups had at least one female founder in 2009. Last year, that number was 17 percent.

The broader report is worth a read if you have time to spend with it. You can check it out in its entirety here.