Corporate VC's holy shit moment: What does Intel know that Google, Sesame Street, Comcast, and Alibaba don’t?
For my entire 18-year-plus career covering venture capital there have been two truisms when it comes to corporate venture capital. Sometimes they get challenged in a hot market, but ultimately, they remain, well, true.
The first is that most corporate VCs do not make great partners. Sometimes that means they block a potential acquisition or at least pose the threat to do so. Occasionally they outright steal strategy from you. Sometimes that means they suddenly change course and decide they are no longer VCs, leaving you high and dry. And sometimes they simply just don’t do what they promised. A lot of people derisively regard them as dumb money or a favorite moniker of “real” VCs: Tourists.
But there is always the lone exception, cycle after cycle: Intel Capital. The second truism is that Intel Capital will be the exception to all of that. The one corporate VC that everyone trusts to be around, be good investors, put the startups first and most of all be incredibly active. Intel Capital has steadfastly refused to churn in and out of tech investing no matter how bad the bad times get for the Valley or for the company. And for many years Intel Capital has been the most active of all VCs-- corporate or otherwise. Not only that, Intel Capital tends to invest in early stage deals, and ones that are in sectors many other VCs ignore or sour on. Recently, I wrote about the disappointment of Internet of Things. Wouldn’t you know it? Intel Capital is one of the largest remaining investors in the segment, long after hardware has scared off a lot of traditional VCs. (Again.)
And that’s sort of poetic, or poetic as Silicon Valley-- a place where the young unceremoniously eat the old-- gets. Intel of course was founded by Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, two men who created so much of what we think of as Silicon Valley and startup culture. The dons of the original Fairchild Semiconductor mafia which spawned more than fifty other companies, and is a line that so many modern Valley companies can trace founders and advisors and money back to. For that to be some paternal funding source over startups around the globe regardless of fads or trends felt right.
Indeed, Intel Capital is the one cited as the model when people say they believe that Google Ventures -- or GV as it’s called now-- is in this thing for the long haul, a different kind of corporate VC.
I guess in tech everything at some point hits obsolescence.
As we wrote recently, Uber’s Travis Kalanick has thrown a grenade into Noyce and Moore’s treat-workers-so-amazing-they-won’t-want-to-unionize legacy. And now, it seems Intel Capital may be done too.
Bloomberg reported that Intel Capital may be selling off its portfolio was a bombshell to everything we’ve ever taken as true about corporate venture capital, assets worth some $1 billion. Bloomberg notes that the group has invested some $11.6 billion in more than 1,440 companies in 57 countries. Last year, Intel Capital invested half a billion in 143 companies. Even in a hot market, that is a big chunk of capital. And now that the market is slowly, it’ll most certainly be missed.
Many were already predicting a slowdown in corporate venture capital with the sector as a whole declining and stock prices of many large tech companies in trouble. That’s significant as corporate VC crept up to a quarter of all deals globally and thirty percent of all deals in China in recent overheated years. If this news is true, that prediction is all but certain. The one constant will be gone. What does that mean for everyone else?
Typically it sucks for a startup when a partner leaves a firm, abandoning its portfolio in the process. What about when the only investor still reliably doing a truck load of series A deals in sectors a lot of VCs don’t touch just sells it all off and closes up shop?
CB Insights could barely contain its “WTF?????” over the news, penning this Tweet storm filled with graphs showing just how big of an impact Intel Capital has quarter after quarter and just how successful it’s been at investing.
Have we ever seen a venture firm that went under by selling everything off, not merely fading away unable to raise another fund and managing out its assets slowly and quietly?