NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Financial Distancing: How Venture Capital Follows the Economy Down and Curtails Innovation

Sabrina T. Howell, Josh Lerner, Ramana Nanda, Richard R. Townsend

NBER Working Paper No. 27150
Issued in May 2020
NBER Program(s):Corporate Finance, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Although late-stage venture capital (VC) activity did not change dramatically in the first two months after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S., early-stage VC activity declined by 38%. The particular sensitivity of early-stage VC investment to market conditions—which we show to be common across recessions spanning four decades from 1976 to 2017—raises questions about the pro-cyclicality of VC and its implications for innovation, especially in light of the common narrative that VC is relatively insulated from public markets. We find that the implications for innovation are not benign: innovation conducted by VC-backed firms in recessions is less highly cited, less original, less general, and less closely related to fundamental science. These effects are more pronounced for startups financed by early-stage venture funds. Given the important role that VC plays in financing breakthrough innovations in the economy, our findings have implications for the broader discussion on the nature of innovation across business cycles

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27150

 
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