The 1% (of VC)

In the last year, I have written about the increasing size of venture capital deals across the round stages and what it means (here, here, here, and here). Today I’ll take a closer look at that the top of the distribution by examining the share of venture capital dollars in U.S. startups captured by the largest one percent or five percent of deals.

This analysis shows that in spite of the large expansion in venture capital deployment across all deal sizes in recent years, the biggest deals are driving the trend. In fact, the largest five percent of deals now account for more than half of venture capital deployed —twice as much as was the case just a decade and a half ago. In the last few years, the trend has been even more concentrated—driven entirely by the top one percent.

The first chart shows the amount of venture capital investments ($ billion) broken down into three deal size groups—the smallest 95 percent of deals, followed by the next four size percentiles (95th to 99th), and then finally, the largest one percent of deals (99th percentile and above). As the total amount of venture capital increased after 2010, so did the spread between these groups—gradually at first, and then rapidly after 2013.


To zoom in, the chart below shows the share of total venture capital accounted for by the largest five percent of deals each year. The lighter bars indicate the share for the largest one percent of deals and the darker bars are for the next four percentiles of deal sizes. The data labels apply to the sum of both bar colors, or the top five percent.


The chart demonstrates a remarkable and steady rise in the share of total venture capital accounted for by the largest five percent of deals, which were responsible for more than half of venture dollars invested into U.S. startups by 2014 (where it has remained for the next five years through 2018). That share was just half of that in 2002, at 26 percent.

Displaying that same data in a different way to allow for a side-by-side comparison, the chart here shows that both the largest one percent of venture deals and the next four percent increased their share of U.S. venture dollars invested throughout the decade, up to about 2013 when the 95th-99th percentile group flattens out and even falls some. The largest one percent of deals continued to capture an ever greater share, though slightly down in the last two years compared with the peak in 2016.


Next, I’ll zoom in even more closely on the last half-dozen years to demonstrate that the growth in capital invested among the top five percent of deal sizes, has actually occurred entirely within the the very top of that group. Comparing 2012 versus 2018, we can see that the decline in share of venture capital dollars flowing to the smallest 95 percent of deals occurred entirely because of the growth in the top one percent, which grew by 9 percentage points (a 50 percent gain). The 95th to 99th percentile group held steady.


Taken together, the message is clear, and mirrors broader society, the economy, the workforce, and business performance in many industries—the venture capital rich are getting richer, but that’s only part of the story. When you look closer within the rich, you can see that it’s the very richest of them that are pulling away from everyone else.