In a recent article, Private Debt Investor reported that “venture debt is blossoming” and suggested that “venture debt will surf” in Covid-19’s wake. US venture debt companies are reporting an uptick in dealflow from both existing and new clients notwithstanding “startup layoffs and drying up deal opportunities”.

This might sound counter-intuitive; why would companies leverage up during these difficult times? 

Understanding the principles around venture debt might provide an insight into this emerging trend and help leadership teams assess the suitability of venture debt as a financing option.  

Venture debt today

According to Kruze Consulting, US$10bn of venture debt was raised by venture-backed companies in 2019 in the United States alone. Venture debt raised by companies in Southeast Asia is at a fraction today. However, venture debt financing is growing strongly in the region partly given the massive inflows of equity funding (which is a forerunner of venture debt), the maturing ecosystem generally and maturing companies that benefit from alternative forms of funding, including less-dilutive funding, as these companies grow. 

Cash is king

Raising venture debt to extend the runway in order to allow the company to gain additional value by the next round of financing has been a key attraction to raising venture debt. Given today’s environment especially, where most companies will be confronted with revenue and growth pressure over the next 6 to 12 months, adding cash to shore up the balance sheet in order to extend the runway is probably a good idea for most leadership teams (and their investors). This is especially so in the case where VCs slow-down funding in the immediate quarters to come. 

Read More : Repost: Venture Debt Market Reaches All-Time High According to Largest Study Ever

Flight to quality

Investors are more and more pivoting towards profitability over growth. WeWork’s troubles, coupled with the woes of SoftBank Vision Fund, probably accelerated this view in the last months of 2019. This is now further exacerbated by the new realities of Covid-19. Companies that prioritise profitability (or cashflows) over growth form the staple of venture debt lending. At Genesis, for example, a key part of our investment approach is to seek out solid equity-sponsored companies with strong positive unit economics and without heavy leakage into buying growth. Your company should consider venture debt funding if this sounds like you. 


Strong companies will continue to successfully fundraise during Covid-19. Historically there have been many opportunities for companies, founders and investors alike in downturns, and hopefully Covid-19 will be no different. However, a common feature during downturns, even for companies that are successfully fundraising, are valuations that are lower (even significantly lower) than previous rounds. And here’s a situation where venture debt can step in to help the company and its founders raise part of this cash without the sting of that additional dilution. 

Also, if a leadership team is raising funds to shore up its working capital needs during this difficult time, raising equity to do so can be a pretty expensive exercise for shareholders (especially with the above in mind). Understanding your working capital needs, and balancing unnecessary equity dilution versus the cost of debt capital, will perhaps push leadership teams to view debt financing more favourably in such circumstances. 

Read More : The Venture Debt Investors Journey in Southeast Asia

Stable VC Presence & Funding in SEA

The Southeast Asia tech ecosystem will benefit from recently raised VC capital pre-Covid-19. In addition to the US$20 billion deployed across Southeast Asia tech companies in 2018 & 2019, an estimated additional US$4 billion of capital will be made available by funds for deployment in the region. Armed with this liquidity, VCs will deploy into companies with strong fundamentals and/or companies that can capture the value of markets in a post-Covid world. Together with VC funding, venture debt will be a valuable complement for companies looking to build-up their balance sheets during this time. 

If you’d like to explore raising venture debt as part of your overall capital needs, drop us a note and we’ll work with you to understand your needs. 



Funding Hardware Startups and The Challenges Ahead

Finally some down time as I head out to Tokyo on a 7 hour flight. Traveling can be a hassle but it does give one a good clear mind with no access to Internet (or limited with planes all touting wifi these days). I chanced on a nice article written by the founder of a hardware company (see article title at the end of this post). In the article, Andrew Thomas shares that “Hardware is HARD”! And how true it is. As an engineer and venture investor with prior experience in hardware startups, the challenge can be another level.

Andrew Thomas is not belittling software companies but I concur with his view that hardware companies do take an extra level of risk, execution and vision. And quoting from his article, The costs are higher, you must carry inventory, and since you can’t just “change code” with hardware, a single mistake could kill you. Sounds dramatic, but it’s not an exaggeration.

As a venture lender, I enjoy funding hardware companies as much as software ones. As an engineer, I relish the challenge of rolling up my sleeves with an early stage hardware startups with my knowledge of manufacturing processes, supply chain and achieving an optimal cost of goods structure.

Hardware start-ups requires an extra layer of debt financing for the company to leverage an efficient cost of capital to grow its customer base. Across my venture portfolio, I have matured together with more than a handful of hardware companies including a life sciences instrumentation “unicorn”, a lighting-as-a-service, a kitchen robotics as well as an electric vehicle company. Donning the role of a board member, I had to help find solutions  to  overcome the challenges of scaling manufacturing. This is not just cost related to supply chain, but also production and process, talent and an efficient logistics hub.

Read More : Singapore’s Grain, a profitable food delivery startup, pulls in $10M for expansion

Most hardware companies work with a contract manufacturer but need to align a vision towards achieving a consistent manufacturing process and ensuring low (and eventually zero) reject and return rate that will in evidently ensure great customer satisfaction. Having two manufacturing locations – one located in a non-earthquake zone and politically stable country is becoming a key consideration factor.

Besides all the of the above, a young upstart company needs to find a  venture investor who can invest patient capital but also bring strategic value add. Andrew Thomas shared a list of US VCs who belong to this category. In the Asia region and specifically to Southeast Asia, there are fewer investors who are comfortable with hardware companies. The early stage hardware investors I know range from Seeds Capital (Enterprise SG), SG Innovate and a few strong believers like Wavemaker Partners, Cocoon Capital, OpenSpace Ventures, ST Engineering Ventures, FocusTech Ventures. This is not an exhaustive list but it will be great to have a go-to list of investors for these hardware companies to approach.

Venture debt has its original roots in the US funding hardware companies some 3 decades ago and today still counts as a majority part of the funding to help hardware companies scale up. In Southeast Asia, hardware start-ups are beginning to get comfortable with debt financing with the availability of venture debt. For funding working capital needs to build inventory, supply chain and manufacturing processes, debt becomes a more efficient use of capital alongside equity. The start-ups that I engage enjoy not just the financial and debt structuring conversation but more importantly how we can use prior experience to help them avoid some of the costly mistakes and scale faster, exponentially. Reach out to me for a conversation to see how Genesis Alternative Ventures can help.

Article:18 Investors That Could Fund Your Hardtech Start-up

Hardware is hard. These investors know how to make it work.

By Andrew Thomas Founder, Skybell Video Doorbell

Featured Image Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash