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IPOs Shine, But Entrepreneurs Turn Down Mergers

2013 was the best year for venture-backed IPOs since 2007, but when it comes to buyouts, entrepreneurs are looking for a better deal
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Snapchat isn't the only company turning down seemingly-lucrative buyout offers.

According to data recently released from Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association, the mergers-and-acquisitions market for venture-backed companies was uncharacteristically quiet in 2013, with only 377 deals completed. By contrast, the IPO market was the best it's been since 2007. Some 82 venture-backed companies went public in 2013, including familiar names such as Twitter, Tableau Software, and Zulilly.

What gives? "The merger and acquisitions activity is just delayed," says John Taylor, head of research for the NVCA. "Companies are holding out for more money."

A rebounding IPO market

In total, venture-backed IPOs raised $11.2 billion in 2013. That seems unimpressive compared to 2012's $21.5 billion total, but the 2012 number includes Facebook's record-breaking $16 billion offering. Without that one IPO, the 2013 numbers are a marked improvement over 2012. As of January 2, 22 of the 24 venture-backed companies that went public in the last quarter of 2012 were trading above their offering prices. Twitter is still trading at more than double its $26-a-share offer price, and at $60.96, Fireye shares are more than three times their IPO price of $20.

The overall IPO market--including all companies, no matter if they're venture backed or spun off from existing entities--had their best year since 2000, with 222 companies going public and raising $55 billion, according to Greenwich, Conn.-based researcher Renaissance Capital.

Twitter, the biggest venture-backed IPO, was actually the fourth-biggest initial public offering of 2013. The biggest was Plains GP Holdings, which had been the general partner of Plains All-American Pipeline. Next was Hilton Worldwide, which had been owned by Blackstone. It was followed by another spin-off, animal health company Zoetis, which had been a unit of Pfizer.

Biotech's moment

Among venture-backed companies, biotech startups were the stars. Of the 82 venture-backed companies that went public during the year, 42 were in biotech. "In many cases these were fairly mature companies that have been waiting and waiting and waiting," says Taylor. Bluebird Bio, which targets orphan diseases, was founded in 1992 and went public in June. Macrogenics, which develops immunotherapies for cancer treatment, was founded in 2000 and went public in October.

Taylor expects many of these newly-public biotechs to be back in the public markets for a secondary offering in 2014 or 2015. "These are companies that need a lot of capital along the way," he says.

Taylor expects that the IPO market will continue to be strong well into 2014. More than 60 venture-backed companies have filed for IPOs with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, he says, and he believes at least that many more are quietly shopping offerings but have not yet formally filed. That strategy only recently became possible with the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in 2012. "There's every suggestion that the pipeline is huge," says Taylor. 

Tech acquisitions

In the fourth quarter of the year, acquisitions were heavily weighted toward the internet and software sectors. There were 81 venture-backed deals in the quarter, and internet and software deals accounted for 52 of them. The largest venture-backed acquisition of the quarter was Monsanto's purchase of Climate Corp., a provider of weather risk technology services, for $930 million. Second was eBay's $800 million purchase of Braintree Payment Solutions.

As has been the case for the past five years, says Taylor, private equity funds were notably absent. "A lot of us are watching for the emergence of financial buyers," says Taylor. But for now, he says, entrepreneurs seem to feel they have plenty of options, and seem to feel they're best-off being acquired by a strategic partner. 

Last updated: Jan 7, 2014

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




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