Corporations are scrambling to get into the venture game

Corporate venture capital investments boosted by new entrants and mega-rounds

The venture capital boom of 2021 was not built from merely traditional VC money. A host of other capital sources played a role in the global trend, from new methods of disbursing angel and seed capital to crossover funds pouring into late-stage startups. And amid all the noise, record-setting totals, and rapid-fire dealmaking, corporate venture investors were busy, investing gobs of parent-company cash into far-smaller concerns.

Corporate venture capital, or CVC for short, is the method by which wealthy businesses build their own investing arm. Traditionally, these efforts blend strategic goals (M&A, early access to technology, partnerships) and financial ones (returns). The exact mix varies by company and CVC effort, but it’s rare to find a corporate venture concern that has none of one or the other. This makes their investing an interesting blend of traditional venture and corporate opportunism.

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CVCs were busy last year. New data from CB Insights makes it clear that 2021 was a colossal period for CVCs, an all-time record by some metrics and a near-record year by others.

CVCs are in the news lately as well, thanks to MongoDB – a NoSQL company that went public in 2017 – putting together its own fund, an event that the technology world took note of. MongoDB joins recently public companies like Coinbase in employing corporate investor work before reaching mega-cap status. The trend goes further: We’ve even seen private companies launch their own CVCs, evidence at once of the lengthening period in which high-growth tech startups stay private and the sheer amount of capital available to pre-IPO companies.

Today, we’re exploring the data behind 2021’s CVC investing boom with commentary from Serge Tanjga, SVP Finance at MongoDB. Tomorrow, we’ll dive into the hows and whys of CVC in the current venture climate with commentary from a number of corporate investing players — and even one public company that is choosing to not build its own investing arm. Sounds good? Let’s get into the data.

How quickly is corporate venture capital investment accelerating?

There are two ways to track the growth of corporate venture capital: The pace at which new CVC concerns are set up, and the rate at which the larger CVC segment invests.

We’ll take them in order. It’s clear that more CVCs are being compiled in the current market than nearly ever before. Indeed, CB Insights data indicates that some 221 new CVCs were created in 2021, a huge 53% increase on 2020 data. However, the 2021 result was actually fractionally lower than the 259 built in 2018. That said, 2021 was the second-hottest year for which we have data when it came to new CVCs reaching the market.

Tanjga, discussing the CVC market from a technology perspective, said that more mature tech companies “tend to set up CVC arms because they have excess capital to deploy, or because being in the VC space will help with their brand positioning,” while younger technology companies “tend to start CVC efforts to attract startups to build on their product, to fund their existing customers or supercharge go-to-market partnerships.” So when we discuss just how many CVCs are being built, keep in mind that they are not a monolith when it comes to goals.

We can’t tease out a perfect split of CVC focus from the pace at which new funds were put to market last year. But if we presume that the new crop of corporate venture players is similar to those that came before it, it is safe to infer that a good number of returns-first and strategy-first CVCs were launched in 2021. For startups, that means that their set of capital funding options is not only broader than ever, but also that the corporate portion of the market is deeper than ever.

Why do we care?