This content was originally featured in Crain's Detroit Business.
Business doesn't stop for startup execs during crisis. But it sure changes.
As the economic uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic lingers, founders of Southeast Michigan startup companies are, like everyone else, wondering what's next.
Late May data from research firm Global Data shows that venture capital funding, the lifeblood of most any growing startup, has slowed down significantly in recent weeks, dropping 5.5 percent in March from the previous month. Higher-value deals of $10 million and above have taken the biggest hit, according to the report.
That tends to ring true to executives at five early-to-middle stage companies in Southeast Michigan, many of whom have ongoing talks with the venture capital community.
For them, business life hasn't stopped — it's just gotten very different. The lingering financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic creates a unique opportunity for Pocketnest LLC.
The Ann Arbor-based software-as-a-service company works directly with banks, credit unions and financial planners to help consumers better plan their finances.
"Given everything that's happening, there's a market for that presently," said Jessica Willis, the company's founder and CEO.
"From a company standpoint, this is the environment we are built for," Willis said. "To help people get their finances in order and to help these financial institutions engage with their consumers, their members, through technology and not in person."
Those circumstances have allowed the company continue on with a $1 million capital raise that has brought in four checks over the last two months, Willis said. But even with capital consistently coming in, the conversations with investors have changed, she said. Things went particularly quiet in the early weeks of the coronavirus spreading across the U.S. During that time, Willis said she worked closely with advisers on how to ensure the company has nearly two years of runway, which it now does.
Still, she said she's seen signs that the venture capital community will be cautious, but hasn't gone to the sidelines completely.
"The conversations with the VCs we haven't taken capital from before are now back to, 'We're ready. What's next?'" Willis said of the discussions in recent weeks.
"I would say they're re-engaging. I would say they're being cautious about who they're engaging with, and I think they're using this opportunity to see deeper into who the teams are, who the nimble ones are," she said. "How well the product is responding to an emergency situation. I think they're using this as an opportunity to dig a little deeper into who they're talking to."
Learn more in Crain's Detroit Business.