Before you begin searching for venture capital funding, you should identify what life stage your company is in and which VCs fund that stage. Because in addition to favoring certain regions and industry sectors, each venture capital fund typically specializes in certain funding stages.
The Start-up Stage
Beginning entrepreneurs usually fund their start-ups by keeping their day jobs, tapping into savings or lines of credit and soliciting small investments from friends and family.
The majority of small businesses get started with less than $10,000.
A young company with an unusually promising business model and outsized early success may seek â€śseedâ€ť funding. The downside of taking outside capital so early is that you will dilute the ownership stake in your business â€“ perhaps by as much as 20% – even before it truly gets off the ground.
There are a few VCs that specialize in seed capital, which may range anywhere from $100,000 to $3 million. If you need less than that, your business may qualify for a traditional bank loan or a microfinance loan.
Businesses that solicit â€śangelâ€ť funding typically have proven their business concepts and need cash to fund full-scale production. This is the first truly formal round of venture funding and usually involves wealthy individuals who have $1 million to $5 million to invest. Again, expect to give up 20% to 30% of the equity in your company.
Some specialized firms provide mezzanine financing (sometimes called â€śsubordinated debtâ€ť), usually to privately held companies that are still considered small, but are past the startup stage. Mezzanine financing typically involves both debt and equity, meaning that some of the money you acquire will be borrowed and some will come through selling an interest in your company.
Â Mezzanine funders are usually paid back through a combination of an equity stake in your company and interest on your loan. Interest rates are set by the market and tend to be less expensive than credit card rates but more expensive than what banks charge.
Â This kind of venture capital is ideal for companies that have healthy cash flow but may not have the tangible assets most banks look for as collateral. In addition, because of the debt aspect of the deal, mezzanine funds do not typically request as much ownership stake in your company as other venture capital firms will do.
Â Venture Capital A-Round
Companies that want to position themselves for acquisition by larger firms or initial public stock offerings often attract the attention of venture capitalists who will contribute an A-round.
The purpose of an A-round is usually to fund inventory and grow receivables. Again, VC investors will look for a slice of your companyâ€™s equity in exchange for the risk they are taking. Itâ€™s not unusual for a company founder to become a minority shareholder at this point, particularly if he has taken participated in previous investment rounds.
Venture Capital B-Round
Businesses that get B-round investments have had continued success and expansion and are beginning to be noticed outside their regions or industries. B-round funding often helps companies develop new product lines, buy real estate, open new facilities or execute other major expansions.
Venture Capital C-Round
Late-stage funding, such as a C-round, usually consists of infusions of outside capital that are needed to sustain a company through an acquisition or initial public offering. This is sometimes called â€śbridgeâ€ť funding.
By the time a business exit occurs, founders who have taken multiple rounds of venture capital investment may retain 20% to 25% ownership. If a planned exit strategy is successful, even that portion can bring a lucrative payoff.
No matter what stage your business is in, it is helpful to have a professional act as your intermediary in negotiations with venture capital firms. Funding deals are extraordinarily complex, and entrepreneurs who are not very familiar with the terms of a VC contract are at an inherent disadvantage when dealing with sophisticated investment firms.