LIMITED TIME OFFER: Get a $500 cash bonus with a personal loan.
Offer ends 9/30/21. Not available to OH residents. Bonus deposited into SoFi Money. See terms

Venture Capital: What Is It and How Does It Work?

By Brian O'Connell · June 28, 2021 · 4 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Venture Capital: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Venture capital doesn’t gain much attention among the public, but it’s behind many of the brands most of us engage with daily. Any consumer who logs on to Facebook or listens to their favorite song on Spotify is engaging with a company that once received financial funding from a venture capital firm.

At year-end 2020, approximately 1,965 U.S. venture capital companies held about $548 billion in venture capital assets. Additionally, the U.S. is a huge player in the VC market, holding over 51% of all invested venture capital

Why is venture capital so pervasive in the U.S. economy and what does it mean for both companies seeking financing and the customers they sell to? Here’s a deeper dive on venture capital, from multiple angles.

What is Venture Capital?

Venture capital is money used to fund startups and invest in private companies that exhibit the characteristics investors seek—namely long-term growth and a product or service with robust profit potential.

Venture capital (or VC, as it’s often called) is a huge force in the business funding market. In 2020, when a worldwide pandemic disrupted the U.S. economy, venture capital companies raised over $130 billion to fund new business startups, with more than 10,000 U.S. businesses receiving financial capital.

What is a Venture Capital Firm?

A venture capital firm is a company that looks for both interested investors and potential companies in which to invest. Venture capital can be critically important to startup firms, as traditional banks may be risk-averse in providing new business funding, given the relative high level of risk in picking winners in a highly competitive market environment.

The concept of venture capital firms dates back to the 1940’s, when a handful of fledgling private equity groups funded emerging companies. The VC sector accelerated in the 1970’s, in tandem with the dynamic growth of the US technology sector, and as government public policy made it easier for venture capital firms to develop and begin funding new businesses.

What’s the Difference Between Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors?

It’s important not to confuse venture capitalists with angel funding investors.

By and large, venture capitalists work for an established financial funding company working with limited partners to locate potentially profitable emerging companies.

Angel investors, on the other hand, are more likely to be “lone wolf” individual investors who rely on their own cash to fund companies.

Recommended: A Closer Look at Angel Investors and How to Find Them

How Does Venture Capital Work?

Venture capital starts with money—and lots of it.

A venture capital company will open a fund and start looking for qualified investors, otherwise known as limited partners. These partners, often banks, corporations or investment funds, agree to buy into the fund and invest in young companies with profit potential. In exchange for the funding, venture capital firms will give the limited partners minority equity in the company (i.e., below 50%), with the amount dependent upon how much money the partners have invested with the firm.

Once a financial commitment is obtained from enough limited partners, the venture capital firm sets out to identify promising companies. Typically, a VC funding campaign is thorough, with the venture capital firm taking a sharp look at the company’s business model, executive team, revenue history, product or service offered, and its long-term growth potential.

What Are the Stages of VC Funding?

If there’s mutual interest, the VC firm will likely offer the target company funding at different tiers, as follows:

Seed Stage

Seed stage money is usually offered to early-stage businesses with a limited amount of funding on the table.

The company, which needs cash to grow, can use the seed-stage venture capital funding for myriad uses, including research and development, product testing and development, or even to create a concrete business plan. In return, the venture capital company will likely require a stake in the company in the form of convertible notes, preferred stock options, or private equity. While funding amounts vary widely, the average seed stage funding amount was $2.2 million in 2020.

Early Stage

With early-stage funding, VC firms will pour more cash into a company, typically once that company has a solid product or service in the pipeline and ready to roll.

VC firms usually fund early-stage companies in letter tiers, starting with Series A, then moving on to Series B, Series C, and Series D. The average early-stage funding amount also varies by company, but the “A level” early-stage funding average clocked in at $12 million in 2020.

Late Stage

With late-stage funding, VC firms focus on more mature businesses that have a track record for growth and revenues, but need a big cash infusion to get to the next level. The funding level at the late stage is also rolled out in lettered tiers, with the median late-stage funding figure at $70 million in late 2020.

After the late-stage funding is complete, expectations are typically high that the company will flourish. That hopefully leads to a profitable acquisition or an initial public offering (IPO), where the company issues stocks, goes public, and lands on a stock market exchange.

While the time frame for exiting a company varies from VC firm to VC firm, generally the goal is to turn a significant profit via an IPO or acquisition and exit the funding position in a four-to-six year time frame.

The Takeaway

Venture capital firms use money from qualified investors like banks, corporations, or investment funds to invest in promising startups or small businesses, with the goal of turning a profit within four to six years.

When the process goes according to plan, a venture capital deal can work out well for both the VC firm and the company receiving the funding. Start-up businesses gain the benefit of cash and experience while the VC firm gets a crack at a major financial return on its investment.

For individual investors, VC funds may be out of reach—but that doesn’t mean you can’t dive into the investing pool. With SoFi Invest®, members can trade stocks online, ETFs, crypto, and Pre IPO investments.

Find out how to start investing with SoFi Invest.

Photo credit: iStock/Pekic


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Investors should carefully consider the information contained in the prospectus, which contains the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other relevant information. You may obtain a prospectus from the Fund company’s website or by email customer service at [email protected] Please read the prospectus carefully prior to investing. Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.
Crypto: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t endorsed or guaranteed by any government, are volatile, and involve a high degree of risk. Consumer protection and securities laws don’t regulate cryptocurrencies to the same degree as traditional brokerage and investment products. Research and knowledge are essential prerequisites before engaging with any cryptocurrency. US regulators, including FINRA , the SEC , and the CFPB , have issued public advisories concerning digital asset risk. Cryptocurrency purchases should not be made with funds drawn from financial products including student loans, personal loans, mortgage refinancing, savings, retirement funds or traditional investments. Limitations apply to trading certain crypto assets and may not be available to residents of all states.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
IPOs: Investing early in IPO stock involves substantial risk of loss. The decision to invest should always be made as part of a comprehensive financial plan taking individual circumstances and risk appetites into account.

SOIN0421160

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender