Why is it so difficult to raise money for tech startups outside the valley? And how to fix it

I was in Chicago on Friday for a startup event at 1871. The accelerator and co-working space is the most happening place in that city. Over 100,000 sq. ft. of awesome startup space. Imagine 350+ early stage tech companies, a few investors, small teams from larger F1000 companies, a developer coding academy and great event space all rolled into one.

That’s the future for all cities, which I see increasingly – Denver has Galvanize, Provo, UT has Boom startups and Austin has Capital Factory.

These hubs concentrate the tech startup activity and provide a critical mass of community, local engagement and evangelism for startups. I was super impressed with 1871 and left very excited after the session at Boom startup and Capital Factory as well.

The one consistent theme I have heard from most of the founders is how hard it is for them to raise money in all those locations. Outside of the valley, funding in New York, Utah, Austin, Chicago and Seattle takes twice as long and you dilute twice as much.

On average Silicon valley companies raise about $491K (Angel list data with cross-reference from Crunch base) for their seed round, which takes about 3 months to close. Since most of them raise a convertible note, it is fairly hard to understand seed stage dilution in the Silicon Valley.

Outside of the valley, which was reinforced with entrepreneurs from Chicago and Austin, there’s a real push from angel investors to have “sustainable revenue” and “proven product”. The average company outside the valley (in the US alone, in the top 7 cities – Chicago, Austin, New York, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles and DC – raised about $230K for the seed round and took about 5 months to close.

From the 11 entrepreneurs who I spoke with in Chicago alone, the average dilution at the seed stage alone was about 15%. In the valley it would be closer to 8-10% would be my guess.

That roughly equates to twice as long and 1/2 as much money and I would bet that it would be that they diluted twice as much as well.

Comparatively, Bangalore companies would take even longer from my experience – 7-8 months, and raise the same amount of money as the average in the US, and dilute in the range of 20% at the seed stage.

Outside the valley, everyone is in the same slow boat, to raise funds, as an entrepreneur.

The angel investors are slow moving, have little motivation to invest at the early stage and have a very high bar for “funding”. It is not unusual to expect to have serious, sustainable revenue from startups before angel investors fund the company.

It is no wonder that most entrepreneurs outside the valley think they are the ones with bad luck.

This is the same in other cities such as Philadelphia as well.

Funding, one of the critical parts of the ecosystem is underdeveloped and very difficult for early stage startups, outside the valley.

Just to be clear, it is hard to get funded, in the valley as well.

If you are from one of the “it” companies, like Google or Facebook and have built a network of colleagues who you have worked with, who again, because they are in those companies, have done well, financially, and are willing to fund your seed round, then things are relatively smooth.

Else it is a pain.

On the flip-side, I hear from my angel investors that the ideas are “poorly formed” and have a lot more risk than other “safer” investments they have in place. Also, in many cases the local seed investors prefer to fund “known” businesses and not take a risk with unproven models.

So what’s the solution in other cities?

I suspect there’s no easy answer until you get some “winners” – both startups and investors who make it big and decide to “give back” by investing. Or forward thinkers who decide to “pay it forward”.

Until then, here are a few things that you can do:

1. Build relationships with investors way before you need their help. I would advice future entrepreneurs to build deep relationships with potential investors 2-3 years before you start if you can. Meet them at events, volunteer for their projects and show / prove to them that you can deliver.

2. Start with a kickstarter campaign. This may not be a perfect option for many types of projects, but you will be surprised with the diversity of crowd-funding models and types of companies that get funded.

3. Help organize local “angel list syndicates”. Get a bunch of folks who invest in the stock market to help them diversify into startups – this is a role that angel groups tend to do but they do a largely poor job of it.

4. Organize entrepreneur-driven funding showcases and invite (beg, cajole and excite) investors from Silicon Valley, who have possibly connections to your city to come.

5. Get local large companies (the F1000 in your city) to kickstart a pooled fund model, with some initial funds annually. The budget for this could come from their innovation funds. Find a way to help solve that companies problems with local startups.

5 thoughts on “Why is it so difficult to raise money for tech startups outside the valley? And how to fix it”

  1. Mukund – Thank you for the ideas! It is indeed a slower cycle out here in Chicago. However, the presence of 1871 and such incubators are creating much needed exposure.

    Another idea I have toyed around is actually visiting the valley, but hesitate only because it is harder to create an ongoing relationship that way. Would you recommend someone visiting the valley to showcase at a local pitch/event. If so, what are your favorite events? Thank you!

  2. Hi Mukund

    Its a great article. Nice overview about startup eco-system and the fund raising advises. As an Indian Based Entrepreneur, any points to be mentioned about India Startup Eco-System, Fund raising cycle and its difficulties? And also most of the successful entrepreneurs are not ready to consider any possible investment opportunities in start-ups, especially in India. We will have a great seed / angel investor rich eco-system if those individual successful entrepreneurs are ready to contribute to this scenario….Whats your point of view on this? Unfortunately We couldn’t find such a scene here in our surroundings (especially in Kerala)…

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