Startup Valuations Start Booming Again

Getting an accurate measure of the startup market’s pulse is tricky — it’s an ephemeral beast, after all — but the dominant sentiment regarding startup valuations over the last year was a resounding “meh.” Plenty of startups were founded, and some succeeded. But with VCs pulling back on funding, banks tightening their loan purses, and high interest rates, starting a new company from scratch has been harder than before — perhaps especially for female founders.

Now reports say that things may be perking up, because startup valuations have bounced back and may even be hitting record levels.

Tech news site TechCrunch notes that some key investors, including Tom Loverro, a general partner at California-based venture capital firm IVP, are saying the worst of the startup slump may be over. TechCrunch also notes new, upbeat data from PitchBook. Its recent figures show that compared to 2023’s startup valuation slump, startup valuations soared in the first six months of 2024. In fact, startup valuations for U.S.-based companies reached an all-time high for “median early- and late-stage deals,” TechCrunch says.

What’s happened to change things? For some startups, it might be because they managed to survive by cutting costs during the funding slump. Stephanie Choo, a partner at Portage Ventures, a VC company that focuses on fintech businesses, suggests that some startups engaged in serious belt tightening, which — if they survived — led to better growth later on and subsequent higher valuations. A buoyant stock market may also have helped the startup scene, as do more recent sentiments that inflation is now under more control, adding substance to hopes that the Fed will cut interest rates. The dramatic rise of AI companies may also be playing a part — recent data shows that even though the $1-billion-dollar valuation “unicorn” status is still rarer than it once was, 2024’s new crop of unicorns is dominated by AI companies.

Overall, the financial and entrepreneurial environment has changed. The outlook for startups is now so positive, Loverro says, that if your startup company survived the downturn, this may be the time to move on from cash preservation and cost-cutting to actually spending money on growth.

Still, there’s one fly in the ointment for any startup CEO cheered up by this dramatic news. Data show that deal volume — as in the rate at which VCs and other investors are injecting cash into startups — is still low. Reports explain that investors still prefer to sit on the sidelines due to global instability stirred by wars and supply chain issues. Some VC firms have also had to ride out a slump of their own, with some experiencing tough enough times that partners have left and they’ve had to lay off staff and close offices. Against this backdrop, it’s easy to see that even though the startup scene may be jolting back to life with some record valuations, VCs are less bold with their cash nowadays.

The big takeaway for your startup? Keep battling, and if you want to win VC attention, you’ve got to show strength and keep hitting your growth targets. Oh, and it’ll likely help a lot if you’re in the AI sector.

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