ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENTS PRIVATE EQUITY & VENTURE CAP
Venture Capitalist (VC)
By AKHILESH GANTI Updated September 30, 2021
Reviewed by GORDON SCOTT
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What Is a Venture Capitalist (VC)?
Understanding Venture Capitalist
History of Venture Capital
Positions Within a VC Firm
How Are Venture Capitalist Firms Structured?
How Are Venture Capitalists Compensated?
What Are the Prominent Roles in a VC Firm?
What Is a Venture Capitalist (VC)?
A venture capitalist (VC) is a private equity investor that provides capital to companies with high growth potential in exchange for an equity stake. This could be funding startup ventures or supporting small companies that wish to expand but do not have access to equities markets.
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Who are Venture Capitalists?
Understanding Venture Capitalist
Venture capitalist firms are usually formed as limited partnerships (LP) where the partners invest in the VC fund. The fund normally has a committee that is tasked with making investment decisions. Once promising emerging growth companies have been identified, the pooled investor capital is deployed to fund these firms in exchange for a sizable stake of equity.
Contrary to common belief. VCs do not normally fund startups from the onset. Rather, they seek to target firms that are at the stage where they are looking to commercialize their idea. The VC fund will buy a stake in these firms, nurture their growth and look to cash out with a substantial return on investment (ROI).
Venture capitalists typically look for companies with a strong management team, a large potential market and a unique product or service with a strong competitive advantage. They also look for opportunities in industries that they are familiar with, and the chance to own a large percentage of the company so that they can influence its direction.
Contrary to popular belief, VCs do not normally fund startups from the onset. Rather, they invest in firms that are ready to commercialize their product.
VCs are willing to risk investing in such companies because they can earn a massive return on their investments if these companies are a success. However, VCs experience high rates of failure due to the uncertainty that is involved with new and unproven companies.
Wealthy individuals, insurance companies, pension funds, foundations, and corporate pension funds may pool money together into a fund to be controlled by a VC firm. All partners have part ownership over the fund, but it is the VC firm that controls where the fund is invested, usually into businesses or ventures that most banks or capital markets would consider too risky for investment. The venture capital firm is the general partner, while the other companies are limited partners.
Payment is made to the venture capital fund managers in the form of management fees and carried interest. Depending on the firm, roughly 20% of the profits are paid to the company managing the private equity fund, while the rest goes to the limited partners who invested in the fund. General partners are usually also due to an additional 2% fee.1
History of Venture Capital
The first venture capital firms in the U.S. started in the middle of the twentieth century. Georges Doriot, a Frenchman who moved to the U.S. to get a business degree, became an instructor at Harvard’s business school and worked at an investment bank. He went on to found what would later become the first publicly traded venture capital firm, American Research and Development Corporation (ARDC) in 1946.2
ARDC was remarkable in that for the first time a startup could raise money from private sources other than from wealthy families. Previously, new companies looked to wealthy families such as the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts for the capital they needed to grow. ARDC soon had millions in its account from educational institutions and insurers. Firms such as Morgan Holland Ventures and Greylock Partners were founded by ARDC alums.3
Startup financing began to resemble the modern-day venture capital industry after the Investment Act of 1958. The act made it so small business investment companies could be licensed by the Small Business Association that had been established five years earlier.4
Venture capital, by its nature, invests in new businesses with high potential for growth but also an amount of risk substantial enough to scare off banks. So it is not too surprising that Fairchild Semiconductor (FCS), one of the first and most successful semiconductor companies, was the first venture capital-backed startup, setting a pattern for venture capital's close relationship with emerging technologies in the Bay Area of San Francisco.5
Private equity firms in that region and time also set the standards of practice used today, setting up limited partnerships to hold investments where professionals would act as general partners, and those supplying the capital would serve as passive partners with more limited control. The number of independent venture capital firms increased in the following decade, prompting the founding of the National Venture Capital Association in 1973.6
Venture capital has since grown into a hundred-billion dollar industry, with total investments of $130 billion as of 2020.7 Today, well-known venture capitalists include Jim Breyer, an early Facebook (FB), now Meta, investor, Peter Fenton, an investor in Twitter (TWTR), and Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal (PYPL).
The value of all Venture Capital investments in 2020.
Positions Within a VC Firm
The general structure of the roles within a venture capital firm vary from firm to firm, but they can be broken down to roughly three positions: 
How Are Venture Capitalist Firms Structured?
Wealthy individuals, insurance companies, pension funds, foundations, and corporate pension funds may pool money together into a fund to be controlled by a VC firm. The venture capital firm is the general partner, while the other entities would be the limited partners. All partners have part ownership over the fund, but it is the VC firm that controls where the fund is invested, usually into businesses or ventures that most banks or capital markets would consider too risky for investment.
How Are Venture Capitalists Compensated?
Payment is made to the venture capital fund managers in the form of management fees and carried interest. Depending on the firm, roughly 20% of the profits are paid to the company managing the private equity fund, while the rest goes to the limited partners who invested in the fund. General partners are usually also due to an additional 2% fee.
What Are the Prominent Roles in a VC Firm?
The roles within a venture capital firm vary from firm to firm, but they can be broken down into roughly three positions: associate, principal, and partner. Associates usually come into VC firms with experience in either business consulting or finance. A principal is a mid-level professional, usually serving on the board of portfolio companies and in charge of making sure they’re operating without any big hiccups. Principals are on a “partner track,” depending on the returns they can generate from the deals they make. Partners are primarily focused on identifying areas or specific businesses to invest in, approving deals whether they be investments or exits, occasionally sitting on the board of portfolio companies, and generally representing the firm.
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Related Terms
What Is Venture Capital?
Venture capital is money, technical, or managerial expertise provided by investors to startup firms with long-term growth potential. more
Seasons
Seasons is a term used predominately among venture capitalists (VCs) to describe the current stage of a proposed business idea or concept. more
What Defines a Venture Capital-Backed IPO?
A venture capital-backed IPO refers to selling to the public shares in a company that has previously been funded primarily by private investors. more
What are Venture Capital Funds?
Venture capital funds invest in early-stage companies and help get them off the ground through funding and guidance, aiming to exit at a profit. more
Vulture Capitalist Definition
A vulture capitalist is an investor who purchases troubled companies on the cheap and then does whatever it takes to revive and make a profit from them. more
What Is Series A Financing?
Series A financing is a reference to the first round of financing undertaken for a new business venture after seed capital. more
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