The Venture Capital Cycle

Posted: 4 Nov 2009

See all articles by Paul A. Gompers

Paul A. Gompers

Harvard Business School - Finance Unit; Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Joshua Y. Lerner

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law

Date Written: 1999


Three principal aspects of venture capital (VC) are empirically explored: fundraising, investing, and exiting those investments. Despite the recent attention to VC, misconceptions abound that the authors attempt to correct. Throughout, the discussions are based on examinations of a large sample of firms, VC funds, and investments. Three themes are elaborated in the volume: (1) The great incentive and information problems venture capitalists must overcome; (2) the interrelatedness of each aspect of the VC process and how it proceeds through cycles; and that (3) the VC industry adjusts slowly to shifts in the supply of capital or the demand for financing. The VC partnership is the intermediary between investors and high-tech start-ups. The fundraising aspect is examined in terms of its structure, means of compensation, and the importance of the structure of the limited partnership form used by most VC funds. The need to provide incentives and shifts in relative negotiating power impact the terms of VC limited partnerships. Covenants and compensation align the incentives of VC funds with those of investors; covenants and restrictions limit conflicts among investors and venture capitalists. Supply and demand and costs of contracting determine contractual provisions. VC contracting may not always be efficient. During periods of high demand and capital flows, partners negotiate compensation premiums. The investing aspect is discussed in terms of why investments are staged, how VC firms oversee firms, and why VC firms syndicate investments. Four factors limit access to capital for firms: uncertainty, asymmetric information, nature of firm assets, and conditions in the financial and product markets. These factors determine a firm's financing choices. Asymmetries may persist longer in high-tech firms, thus increasing the value of delaying investment decisions. Exiting VC investments is examined, in regard to the market conditions that affect the decision to go public, whether reputation affects the decision to go public, why venture capitalists distribute shares, the performance of VC-backed firms, and the future of the VC cycle. Exiting investments affects every aspect of the investment cycle. Venture capitalists add value to the firms in which they invest. The VC cycle is a solution to information and inventive problems. (TNM)

Keywords: Intermediaries, Venture capital firms, Startups, Firm financing, Private financing, Venture capital, Early stage capital, Venture capitalists, Innovation policies, Access to capital, Information asymmetry, Organizational structures, Exit strategies

Suggested Citation

Gompers, Paul A. and Lerner, Joshua Y., The Venture Capital Cycle (1999). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship. Available at SSRN:

Paul A. Gompers (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Finance Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6297 (Phone)
617-496-8443 (Fax)

Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02163
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

B-1050 Brussels


Joshua Y. Lerner

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics