See ya, seed? Decline in seed-stage startup funding deals may impact venture ecosystem

Seed-stage deals, in dark red, have been declining since last year. (PwC/CB Insights chart)

A record amount of investment dollars are going to U.S. startups. But that doesn’t necessarily mean good news for founders trying to raise seed-stage capital.

VC-backed companies in the U.S. saw a 17 percent increase in funding last quarter as total amount invested reached $28 billion, according to a new MoneyTree Report from PwC and CB Insights.

The spike was driven by 55 $100 million-plus rounds and six $500 million-plus rounds; both were the most of any quarter ever.

While total capital invested rose, VC-backed deal volume dropped to the lowest amount in nearly six years, following a trend of more money going to fewer, later-stage deals. There were 16 U.S. startups that gained “unicorn” status, with valuations rising above $1 billion.

Seed-stage deals saw a big decline, falling to 18 percent of all deals in the U.S., the lowest in several quarters and down from 26 percent in the second quarter.

“The migration out of seed won’t be felt now, but it will have impacts on the venture ecosystem in the coming years,” Anand Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of CB Insights, said in a statement.

Sanwal further explained how fewer seed-stage deals will change investing dynamics in a follow-up email with GeekWire.

“Investors have traditionally made more bets at the seed stage, and through the Darwinian process that startups go through, many/most of them die,” he said. “But some of them mature to Series A, B, etc. with a very small minority becoming big companies. If we have fewer and declining seed stage deals, it means fewer companies available for those bigger later stage deals in the future.”

Tom Ciccolella, PwC’s U.S. venture capital leader, added that “as early-stage startups wonder if there are adequate funds available, the overall deal volume (1,229) still reflects a healthy startup ecosystem.”

However, in a separate venture capital report, Jeff Grabow, the U.S. venture capital leader at EY, called the investment climate a “cash bubble.”

“The amount of capital available to companies is greater than we have ever seen,” Grabow said. “We are in a cash bubble and it can be argued that there is almost too much money chasing too few deals.”