Venture capitalists, cool to Minnesota companies during the first three quarters of the year, have started to open their wallets.
Six companies in the state raised nearly $65 million in the third quarter ended Sept. 30. That’s the highest quarterly amount so far this year, but less than during the same period in 2014.
Last year’s total of $359.8 million in venture capital invested in young Minnesota private companies was the strongest since the Great Recession, according to figures prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data provided by Thomson Reuters.
This year, Minnesota was dramatically lagging behind the year-to-date average of the past five years.
Then, in early October, Code 42, a fast-growing Minneapolis software company that provides data storage services, scored $85 million, the biggest venture capital investment in a Minnesota company since the tech-boom of 1999-2000.
“The first three quarters of 2015 were below historical averages,” said Mark Scholtes, a Minneapolis-based partner at PwC who examines the numbers. “Then comes the $85 million for Code 42, a fourth-quarter deal.
“You add that to the $171 million we had taken in during the first nine months, and that puts the number at $256 million. The prior three years averaged about $297 million … We could end up this year in pretty good shape.”
The investment in Code 42, with more than 400 employees, comes from two firms that previously invested — Accel and Split Rock Partners — and two new ones, JMI Equity and New Enterprise Associates. Chief Executive Joe Payne said the additional funds, which topped the $52.2 million investment in Code 42 in 2012, will allow the company to focus on developing more software services for businesses.
The $85 million to Code 42 is the largest round of financing in Minnesota since early 1999. WamNet — a hot-to-not Internet company — raised $92.6 million for its networking business back then. The firm struggled after the dot-com bust in 2001 and its assets were later sold.
Meanwhile, Ativa Medical of St. Paul said last week that it recently raised an additional $15 million, increasing its external equity gathering to $23.17 million. Ativa plans to “disrupt” the centralized blood-testing lab system of today with “the world’s first diagnostic micro lab to help clinicians make immediate treatment decisions.”
The funds will support Ativa’s quest to obtain U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the Ativa micro lab and preparations for commercial launch. The second-round investors include the venture capital division of Ping An Insurance; Laboratory Corporation of America, the huge health care diagnostics company; and Zhejiang Dian Diagnostics, a Chinese concern.
Minnesota, which has typically raised about 1 percent of the venture capital distributed throughout the country, has dragged in recent years thanks to a decline in funding for medical technology, the state’s traditional strength. In a health care environment focused on cost constraints, there has been less and less going for more-expensive medical devices. And more has been going to health IT and analytics firms, essentially software outfits that are focused on understanding trends, eliminating waste and corralling costs.
The state, thanks to Code 42 and other firms, is doing better developing nonmedical software firms.
For example, earlier this year, Minneapolis-based LeadPages, a maker of sales-oriented website technology, collected $27 million. That was the single-largest stash of venture capital in the second quarter.
Venture capital from institutional investors, of course, is only one way that growth companies get financed.
And, as the economy heats up, equity and debt capital is in ample supply.
“We’re still in a favorable market,” said Steve Hodapp, director of middle market investment banking and capital markets at Wells Fargo Securities.
In Minnesota this year, equity capital raising has run below the national average, but debt offerings have been hot.
“In Minnesota, there’s been more bond-capital issues in 2015 over 2014," Hodapp said. "I attribute that to the strength of the Minnesota names such as 3M, UnitedHealth and General Mills. These are strong issuers. And the cost of equity capital today is higher than that of debt.”
And 2015 is expected to be another brisk year for mergers and acquisitions. Companies like these and others have used their strong stock prices as acquisition currency, as well as low-cost debt to buy smaller companies or divisions being spun off by other megacompanies.