Pacific NW startup funding totals for first half of 2020 may surprise you — in fact, they shocked us

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Recession? What recession? Venture capitalists are pouring money into Pacific Northwest tech companies at unprecedented levels, significantly outpacing the number of deals and dollars invested in the first half of 2018 and 2019, according to GeekWire’s analysis of investments during the first six months of 2020.

The results are surprising given the economic damage occurring in the U.S., not to mention the challenges investors face in writing new checks in the middle of a pandemic. Despite those trends, the numbers show a significant uptick in both dollars invested and number of deals in the Pacific Northwest, which we define as Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

Venture capital investors sunk $2.3 billion into 135 deals during the first six months of 2020, up from $1.1 billion in 94 deals in the first half of 2019, according to GeekWire’s tally, derived from our running list of Pacific Northwest startup investments.

As the chart at top shows, there was one whopper financing in June: Seattle-based Sana Biotechnology raised more than $700 million in one of the largest biotechnology funding deals ever. Of course, that funding alone skews the numbers significantly.

But the trend holds up even without that deal. Excluding the Sana investment, the funding totals for the first half of 2020 still topped $1.6 billion, vs. $1.1 billion for the first half of last year.

The coming capital crunch that the National Venture Capital Association predicted in April — advising investors and startups to fasten their seat belts for a bumpy ride in which investment would “drop significantly” — has not materialized. At least not yet, and at least not in the Pacific Northwest.

What’s going on? A few observations:

  • Venture capital is a long-term game. Early-stage bets today hopefully pay off in five or ten years. Given the long timeframes, venture capitalists can invest today in promising areas, not directly concerned with the immediate economic challenges. Investors like to argue that great companies are started during recessions.
  • If you believe that COVID-19 is packing five years of innovation into five months, many venture-backed companies are poised to take advantage of massive tectonic shifts in the economy. Areas such as robotics, telehealth, cloud computing, communications, gaming, etc. could be better situated for what’s ahead.
  • In the Pacific Northwest, examples of companies poised to take advantage of social and cultural shifts are numerous. B.C.-based Thoughtexchange just raised $10 million to help leaders at companies better communicate with their employees, while Seattle startup Syndio — which helps companies ensure pay equity for women and minorities — raised $7.5 million in May.
  • There are also a number of digital health and biotech related companies in the region — Portland-based telehealth startup Conversa raised $12 million and Seattle biotech Athira Pharma raised $85 million in June — who are successfully raising capital.
  • Venture capitalists — known for their herd mentality — tend to follow what’s happening on Wall Street. And that story is inexplicably positive right now, with a crop of IPOs (See Seattle-based health company Accolade’s IPO this week) and technology stalwarts hitting all-time highs. As long as Wall Street pumps money into technology companies, venture capitalist at the bottom end of the funnel will feel good about future prospects.
  • The economics of coronavirus seem to be pointing to winners and losers, and tech-enabled companies largely appear to be on the winning side of the fence.
  • There may still be tailwinds from the first few months of 2020 before COVID-19 gripped the U.S., with venture capitalists completing some of the deals that were already in the works.
  • Venture capitalists still have a lot of “dry powder” — unused capital in their funds. That number stood at $120 billion at the beginning of the year, a record amount, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

We talk more about these trends on a new episode of the GeekWire Podcast. Listen above, or subscribe to GeekWire in any podcast app.

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