Mutual Funds as Venture Capitalists? Evidence from Unicorns
Using novel contract-level data, we study the recent trend in open-end mutual funds investing in unicorns—highly valued, privately held start-ups—and the consequences of these investments for corporate governance provisions. Larger funds and those with more stable funding are more likely to invest in unicorns. Compared to venture capital groups (VCs), mutual funds have weaker cash flow rights and are less involved in terms of corporate governance, being particularly underrepresented on boards of directors. Having to carefully manage their own liquidity pushes mutual funds to require stronger redemption rights, suggesting contractual choices consistent with mutual funds’ short-term capital sources.
We thank Slava Fos (discussant), Jesse Fried, Jarrad Harford, William Mann, Ramana Nanda, Morten Sorensen, Xiaoyun Yu (discussant), and conference participants at the Southern California Private Equity Conference, London Business School Private Equity Symposium, and the FRA Meeting for helpful comments. We thank Michael Ostendorff for access to the certificates of incorporation collected by VCExperts. We are grateful to Jennifer Fan for helping us better interpret and code the certificates of incorporation. We thank Quentin Dupont, Luna Qin, Bingyu Yan, and Wyatt Zimbelman for excellent research assistance. Lerner periodically receives compensation for advising institutional investors, private equity firms, corporate venturing groups, and government agencies on topics related to entrepreneurship, innovation, and private capital. Lerner acknowledges support from the Division of Research of Harvard Business School. Zeng acknowledges support from the Foster School of Business Research Fund. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.