Road to Sustainable Investment: How Are Private Market Investors Responding to ESG Needs?

by Sandeep Kumar | December 3, 2021

What is Driving Private Market Investors into ESG Investments?

The demand for ESG-certified investments looks to be unstoppable. According to Bloomberg Intelligence research, global ESG assets under management (AUM) will surpass US$53 Tn by 2025 and will soon represent 44% of the global AUM. More than a third of all AUM in the world would have an ESG imprint in the coming future at this rate.

Two parallel developments are driving the increased usage of ESG management systems. First, rising social pressure, a shift in expectations from private enterprise, and continuous legislative reforms have raised the desire for businesses to adopt proactive environmental and societal responsibilities. Second, there is a growing realization among financial and business experts that ESG concerns may have a significant influence on corporate value, and that risk management can help organizations and their shareholders protect economic value.

ESG risk factor methods have sparked the interest of investors of all shades, and progress has been made in applying them. Some of the largest fund managers have adopted ESG on their own, realizing the advantages of incorporating risks into their investment processes. Others are reacting to the rising number of LPs asking ESG-related questions as part of their investigative work and may exert pressure on GPs to include sustainability initiatives into their investing procedures on the margin or even as a mandate to invest.

Long-Term Profit is Closely Linked to Sustainable Investment

The goal of a corporate should be to generate profits without a doubt, but it cannot be the only goal for long. Consider a company that prioritizes money over everything else with little regard for safety or environmental repercussions. What happens to a firm if a defective product is issued or an accident occurs because the business is focused on maximizing the stock price without concerns for the planet and the environment? Not only would the stock price plummet and previously avoided expenditures become due, but litigation, penalties, recalls, cleaning costs, and reputational harm would almost certainly follow, all of which might lead to bankruptcy or liquidation. In the past ten years, cyber security attacks have been a CEO’s nightmare. The next couple of decades may add ESG related concerns to that list.

According to the US SIF Foundation’s research on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends, US asset management companies and institutional asset owners have started employing sustainable investing techniques and analyzing the ESG problem in managing their portfolios. The sustainable industry has expanded at a CAGR of 14% over the last 25 years. Since 2012, the most significant surge has occurred.

Greenwashing Concerns

When GPs recognize that ESG is affecting LP commitment choices, they may use buzzwords in their due diligence papers to show they have accepted ESG principles, however all that talk may not be translating into implementation. As per the study of InfluenceMap, the world’s largest asset managers are failing to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate targets. More than half of climate-themed funds failed the test, while slightly over 70% of funds claiming to have ESG compliance failed. In comparison to the US and Asia, Europe is the only region that tracks ESG across the asset management business, and the framework it creates is likely to become a global standard.

Greenwashing is a practice that has drawn attention to the need for honesty in advertising in this industry. Not only are many LPs getting better at exposing asset managers’ ESG claims, but regulators are forcing asset managers to represent themselves and their plans correctly and honestly. TotalEnergies SE, Halliburton Co., Chevron Corp., and ExxonMobil Corp. were all included in climate-themed funds that were exposed to the fossil-fuel business. According to InfluenceMap, three funds dubbed “Paris aligned” and managed by UBS and Amundi SA scored -40% to -26%.

At COP26, it was widely acknowledged that considerably more money is needed for climate adaptation — that is, programs that would mitigate the expected effects of climate change throughout the world. The text of the Pact itself reflected this. The cost of implementing the necessary modifications to achieve “net zero” by 2050 is predicted to be between $100 trillion and $150 trillion. According to GFANZ, private money could provide 70% of the $32 trillion in investment required by 2030 to establish a net-zero economy by 2050. Despite their importance in completing the Paris Agreement, climate tech venture capital and ESG funds are still in their infancy. The increase of private investment removes the load on underperforming governments in terms of capital flow. More cooperation between public and private finances is essential to achieve a speedy transition.

Sector-Wise Effect of ESG

Naturally, various sorts of businesses are subjected to different ESG demands, and some of the imperatives are more intense than others. According to IHS Markit’s survey, 40% of respondents believe the energy, mining, and utilities sector would be most affected by ESG concerns in the next two years, followed by industrials and chemicals (17%) and transportation (17%).

          Source: IHS Markit

The selection of these businesses is likely influenced by the global climate change agenda, with increased environmental legislation and policy focused on companies that emit considerable amounts of carbon. “These are energy-intensive companies,” a partner at a UK private equity company explains. “Mining, for example, makes extensive use of natural resources and conventional energy.” “Companies will have to replace their cars with more fuel-efficient ones,” a UK-based asset management executive says on transportation.

COVID-19 Crisis has Aggravated Investor Focus on ESG

The ESG phenomenon is fuelled by a variety of factors, many of which have been exacerbated by the outbreak. Climate change is a major subject, with COVID-19 emphasizing the interconnectedness of the planets and the fragile link between people and nature.

J.P. Morgan polled investors from 50 global institutions, representing a total of $12.9 Tn in AUM on how they expected Covid would impact the future of ESG investing.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, action and knowledge of long-term sustainability concerns are expected to rise in the long run, this should be a beneficial driver for ESG. The majority (55 %) of investors polled by J.P. Morgan believe it will be a positive catalyst in the next three years. Only roughly a quarter of investors (27%) feel it will have a negative impact, while 18% believe it would have no effect.

          Source: J.P. Morgan, Tracking the ESG implications of the COVID-19 Crisis.

COVID has uncovered the costs and unfairness of inequality as social transformation accelerates. A wide spectrum of stakeholders is calling for organizations to be better operated and more responsible, especially in light of taxpayer-funded business support during the outbreak.

Are ESG Factors Shifting Investors’ Focus?

Overall, it appears that regulatory and LP forces are bringing the private markets to the brink of mainstream ESG acceptance. Some GPs are beginning to accept that the risk variables identified as part of the ESG framework are worthy components of the investing process, and reporting and monitoring systems are coming together. LPs are shifting their emphasis from public market operations to private market adoption. However, concerns about greenwashing are growing. The root of the issue is how ESG ratings, such as those provided by MSCI and Sustainalytics, are calculated. Most ratings have little to do with true corporate responsibility, contrary to what many investors believe. Instead, they assess how vulnerable a company’s economic value is to ESG Factors.

There is no doubt about the fact that due to the concerns regarding climate change and the need for sustainability, application of ESG in private markets has started to gain momentum. If you are an investor looking forward to access similar opportunities, Torre Capital offers access to top startups across the globe. Our platform provides seamless financing and investment journey. Feel free to reach out to us for understanding the investment process better.

. . .

This article has been co-authored Vivek Kumar who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

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Crypto Scare: Is the Hype Settling Down?

by Sandeep Kumar

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Crypto Volatility Index (CVI) hit a near one-year high of 127.03 on May 12th. The value of Coinbase, a big bitcoin exchange, has plummeted. A cryptocurrency that advertised itself as a reliable medium of exchange has gone bankrupt. A drop in cryptocurrency values has wiped away more than $300 Bn. The decline in cryptocurrencies is part of a broader shift away from riskier assets, which has been fueled by rising interest rates, inflation, and economic uncertainty resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These reasons have exacerbated a “pandemic hangover” that began when life in the United States began to return to normal, damaging the stock values of companies like Zoom and Netflix, which profited during the lockdowns. However, crypto’s collapse is more severe than the stock market’s overall decline. While the S&P 500 has lost 18% this year, the price of Bitcoin has plunged 40% in the same time. Bitcoin has dropped 20% in the last five days alone, compared to a 5% drop in the S&P 500. Let us have a look at the kind of impact the crypto slump is creating on various stakeholders.

How the fall of TerraUSD and Luna has created panic?

The crypto shock occurred primarily after the sudden crash of the stable coin TerraUSD and Luna token. For the past six months, investors bought UST in order to profit from Anchor, a borrowing and lending platform which offered a 20% yield to anyone who bought UST and lent it to the protocol. The idea was criticized as it was likened to a Ponzi scheme which would not be successful. Karma hit the founder, Do Kwon, hard enough who is known for calling out critics as “poor”. Former Terra employees and retail investors in the crypto are holding the Kwon responsible for the losses. While he is still optimistic about his plans to revive Terra, Kwon is facing some major backlash in the form of lawsuits, fines and penalties.

Since May 10th, when TerraUSD and Luna began to show indications of difficulty, cryptocurrencies used by South Korean gaming firms for in-game purchases and trading have experienced erratic trading. As of then, C2X, which formerly used TerraUSD as its main platform thanks to a collaboration with Terraform Labs, the firm behind TerraUSD, which is now depegged from the US dollar, was trading at roughly 1,000 won. According to industry officials, game firms with products that include virtual coins and other blockchain functionality are still on high alert due to the recent collapse of the TerraUSD and Luna cryptocurrencies.

Wemix, a cryptocurrency run by Wemade Co., the maker of the play-to-earn game “MIR4 Global,” dropped by 28 percent during the TerraUSD fiasco before recovering back to the 2,700 won level on May 16th. MBX, Netmarble Corp’s virtual currency, has also plummeted by more than 80% to roughly 11,000 won, compared to around 64,000 won on May 6. Klaytn, a blockchain platform established by internet behemoth Kakao Corp., was also down to roughly 500 won, down from over 650 won on May 10th. Companies are keeping a close eye on the newest developments and concerns in the Bitcoin market in general since a loss of user and investor confidence might jeopardize the gaming industry’s Blockchain ecosystem, which many companies have already extensively invested in. Several crypto exchanges including Coinbase, Binance, Coinswitch Kuber, CoinDCX, even temporarily delisted Luna coin.

Sector euphoria that fueled the NFT boom has given way to more pessimistic conditions, forcing the mostly speculative NFT market to face reality. NonFungible, an NFT data business, stated that transaction volume was down 47 percent in Q1 2022 compared to the previous quarter. The figures are even more dramatic when looking at daily average sales, which fell by 92 percent between September 2021 and April 2022. Such challenges are far from insurmountable. For an NFT market that has been weak on value proposition but strong on hype, a washout was always going to happen. This data will be seen by critics of NFTs as the beginning of the end for projects that have been marked by over-promises, rug pull scams, and flash over substance. A reduction in speculation is more likely to refocus entrepreneurs on adding clear value to digital assets. A more clearly defined use case with a highly motivated and well-capitalized stakeholder to assist drive forward development is required to propel innovation forward.

What to expect in the longer run?

The fall of USDT has reflected poorly over the entire stable coin industry. Developers created functional and safe algorithmic in order to make it less susceptible to government oversight and more resistant to inflation than fiat-backed stable coins. However, they have lost their peg and failed. Some crypto analyst even suggest that the idea of algorithmic stable coins will now be put to rest. On the other hand, despite the volatility in the crypto industry since the beginning of 2022, private equity and venture capital investment into the crypto and Web3 space have been optimistic. The recent shocker has led Terra’s major investors to decide whether to help bail the project out or pull back and escape. While Lightspeed Venture Partners, one of the investors of Luna token, is planning to double down specifically in infrastructure, DeFi and emerging use cases, there is a possibility that the DeFi hype may now calm down. Until economic growth and corporate earnings forecasts are altered, there will be a sluggish flow of fresh money into equities, commodities, bonds or cryptocurrency markets in the coming months.

The arising concerns due to the crashing crypto market have been drawing attention to the regulation of cryptocurrencies. From USA to India, public officials are calling out the need for a regulatory framework to guard against the volatility risks of crypto. The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called for stable coin regulations to mitigate the risks, ensuring there are no gaps in the regulation. In India, experts are in a process to lay out tax policies for cryptocurrencies. However, naysayers believe that it could disturb the huge potential that the crypto industry brings in terms of intersection of blockchain, machine learning and job creation. Lack of clarity on policies is discouraging innovation in the sector and forcing job seekers to look for opportunities outside India where there are more crypto friendly policies.

A wake-up call for investors

There is no doubt that crypto is a volatile space. The crypto market has survived all this due to the underlying premise that the blockchain is a powerful tool that can change the way the next generation of digital products is built. However, some investors try to make quick money out of these volatile markets. Several people lost their entire life savings through crypto investments. It is advised that investors should research the projects, the technology and promoters before investing in tokens and not just follow returns blindly. Shocks like the recent one will act as a wake-up call and likely make investors mature. As per Sidharth Sogani, founder and CEO of Crebaco Global, a rating, research and intelligence firm focused on blockchain and crypto, more trouble is yet to come. He mentions that as for the crypto market is concerned, we might see a further down or a sideways movement for the next three to six months before it enters the bull market again.

So next time you make any investment decision, especially in a volatile market like crypto, be sure to be patient and do extensive research instead of running after quick returns.

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This article has been co-authored by Sayan Mitra and Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

Valuation Reset: Who are the gainers and losers?

by Sandeep Kumar

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From a year of record funding to valuation check, how have things changed?

For any startup, raising funds is an inevitable part of the journey, and it highly depends on how the company is valued. VC funding sky-rocketed in 2021 with over $643 Bn going into global venture investment. This marked a 92% growth compared to the previous year. Consequently, we witnessed more than 10 new unicorns being minted each week on an average, adding around $1.8 Tn in value.

The amount of funds that went to higher-risk, early-stage startups was notable in 2021 as it witnessed almost 100% YoY growth in early-stage funding, with $201 Bn in about 8,000 startups. However, the good times do not seem to continue in 2022. Often, startups overvalue themselves in order to raise funds without giving up much of their equity. This may be detrimental in the long run — in case the company struggles to meet the expectations of the investors, it will have to raise funds at a lower valuation in the future rounds. Moreover, external factors like geopolitical tensions, inflation, underperforming IPOs and public markets have also affected the startup valuations. Through this article, we try to understand the different reasons for the decline in valuations and the kind of impact it could have on investors and startups.

Source: Crunchbase

Valuation reset for overvalued tech unicorns

After the hyped market in 2021, venture capitalists are now renegotiating their deals. As reported by WSJ, Tiger Global Management which has been one of the most prolific startup investors is renegotiating the investments for several companies, reducing the valuations by more than 20%. Manhattan Venture Partners also noted a nearly 10% plunge in the stock purchases of certain private companies in the first month of 2022. Some high-growth startups are even scaling back the funding rounds or delaying their IPOs that could value them lower than expected.

Let’s have a look at some recent examples where startups have been revalued by the investors or have themselves reset their valuations.

  • Philadelphia-based growth startup, Dbt Labs Inc, scaled back its funding round that valued it at around $4 Bn instead of the initially negotiated $6 Bn.
  • Fidelity, which has an investment in fintech giant Stripe, recently marked down the value of the company by over 9%.
  • The delivery giant, Instacart slashed its valuation by about 40%, valuing the company at $24 Bn down from its earlier valuation of $39 Bn.
  • Startups like OYO and Pharmeasy, who were preparing to go public are now considering downsizing their IPO valuations considering the market conditions.

The effect of tech sell-offs in public market is also visible in the private secondary market as there is a heightened interest in selling shares at a discounted price, typically 10% — 30% lower than the last quarter of 2021. With fewer IPOs, shareholders are looking for liquidity solutions in the secondary market, ready to sell their shares at a discount.

VC pull-back and a shift in focus

As market correction started happening in the public markets, its effects have been trickled down to the private market as well. As a result of huge tech sell-offs and dropping valuations in the public market, many VC firms have tightened their grip on startup funding as well. Investors are rechecking the startups’ valuation at a lower level to account for the pressure on the public peers. Firms like Tiger Global Management and D1 Capital have pulled back from investing in late-stage startups. The growth stage and later-stage funding seem to be stagnated. At times like these, some startups may be in desperate need of raising funds, so they will have to lower down their valuation expectations to be able to raise some cash. Meanwhile, startups that had raised huge rounds last year are being advised to use their funds wisely and prepare for even worse times.

The plunging tech stocks facilitated by inflationary concerns and rising interest expectations added to the pessimistic lending behaviour. The stocks of public companies, which typically guide the valuation of startups, saw a decline in valuation. By the end of January, companies that went public last year were down an average of 32.6% since their listings. Less proven companies performed even worse. Not only did the drop hold back investors, but also delayed the startups from going ahead with the IPO. The reset in startup valuations was well predicted, but what is surprising is that historically there has always been a long lag in the private market’s reaction to a public market slowdown, now it’s much faster.

However, things are not the same for all the sectors. While consumer businesses have taken more brunt of the pullback, companies dealing with blockchain, cryptocurrency, and cybersecurity have continued to attract VC interest. Despite the tight funding hand, investors’ focus has been shifted to seed and early-stage startups. The risk may be high with early startups and they are far away from taking a meaningful exit, but they allow investors to write smaller checks that could still give them some returns.

How is the valuation reset going to impact the stakeholders?

A drop in valuations is a double-edged sword. Investors may welcome the dip in valuation as it would mean that they would get new deals at a meaningfully lower value. VCs would love to offer lower prices on new deals, but also want their existing portfolio companies to be marked up in subsequent rounds. There is also a significant chance that the public companies, that guide startup valuations, will normalize back to the mean of the last couple of years. Consequently, VCs have tightened their lending capacity and shifted their focus to early-stage startups. Many startups had raised huge amounts for the early rounds, which raised the expectations and hence the valuation of the company. Now, slashing their valuation in order to raise funds would mean that startups will have to dilute a greater chunk of their equity.

The kind of valuation reset that we have started to witness was much needed after all the craziness in 2021. However, whether this is just a minor correction or has a long-term impact is difficult to determine now and we will have to wait and see at least till Q2 or Q3 of this year to understand where this goes. Till then, startups need to utilize their available cash prudently.

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This article has been co-authored by Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

How will the Cybersecurity Sector Rise in a Digitized World?

by Sandeep Kumar

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Every now and then we keep hearing about instances of cyber threats and attacks wiping out millions of dollars from various organizations. The cases have risen as several companies went completely digital, especially post-pandemic. 2021 saw a record rise in cybercrime with ransomware attacks rising by 151%. As businesses realize the importance of digital security, they are taking steps to keep their digital stack secured, making cyber resilience a top business priority. As per a survey by WEF, nearly two-thirds of businesses find it difficult to deal with cybersecurity incidents due to a lack of skills. Hence, they need to rely on partnerships with security firms to secure their business from such threats. Cybersecurity is a massive market with over $150 Bn in annual spending. It has led to a positive outlook toward cybersecurity startups. As a result, VCs are betting their money on security startups. 2021 is considered a record-breaking year for the sector as cybersecurity startups raised over $29 Bn in venture capital, outpacing the previous two years combined.

Source: 2022 Cybersecurity Almanac | Momentum Cyber

VC activity and trends

VC investments in cybersecurity have grown gradually over the years. In 2021, VC firms had a really big appetite for cybersecurity as the deal volume crossed $29 Bn, seeing a YoY growth of over 136%. With this, the size of the funding rounds has also increased for security startups, as 82 financing rounds grabbed a deal of more than $100 Mn.

As the startups in the sector are attracting VC money, there has been significant growth in the number of unicorns. About 30 cybersecurity startups achieved the unicorn status last year, with a few of them achieving the mark in just a few years of their inception. For instance, Orca Security, which was founded in 2019, raised $550 Mn in October at a valuation of $1.8 Bn. Wiz, a cloud security provider which was founded in 2020, is now valued at $6 Bn!

According to Momentum Cyber, cloud security has been the favourite segment to receive financing with a total of $4.3 Bn, followed by identity and access management receiving $3.4 Bn in funding, and endpoint security with $2.8 Bn. Geographically, the majority of the cybersecurity startups that received funding, securing over $17.4 Bn, belong to the U.S. followed by Israel (as per Crunchbase data).

Source: 2022 Cybersecurity Almanac | Momentum Cyber

Cybersecurity investment trend forecast

Based on the current momentum and growing threat landscape, the cybersecurity sector could see an even bigger year in 2022. This year, cybersecurity startups could see a market opportunity in the following areas, thereby drawing investors’ interest.

 Cryptocurrency

The crypto market is booming across the world. However, the area is also prone to growing amounts of cyberattacks. Most recently, Axie Infinity was a victim of one of the biggest crypto heists worth over $600 Mn. There are multiple cases like these, hence crypto security platforms (like Fireblocks) are expected to see investors’ focus. According to the Managing Director at Insight Partners, areas within crypto security, such as coin monitoring will see a critical focus. It is expected that large payment companies and even traditional market exchanges will carefully look at the space around security.

 Compliance and Auditing

2022 is likely to see a move towards “shifting left of compliance”, which intends to find errors early in software delivery for compliance and third-party audits. This also includes smart contract security audits. Some startups already working in this space include CertiK, Certora, and OpenZeppelin.

 Web3 and Metaverse

A large number of startups are exploring the web3 and metaverse space. This means startups involved in securing user identity and ownership could attract VC money. Identity management and authentication have already been popular in 2021, however, startups looking beyond and into the future of the internet could win big.

How to spot promising early-stage cybersecurity startups?

The number of cybersecurity unicorns and new startups in the sector is multiplying. As many startups are attracting VCs and raising funds at higher valuations, it is important to spot promising startups early-on to get higher returns.

YL Ventures, an America-Israeli VC firm specializing in early-stage cybersecurity investments, suggests some benchmarks that you can look out for. Some of the early-stage startups backed by YL Ventures include Orca Security, Enso Security, Grip Security, Piiano, Valence, and Eureka.

 Initial Revenue:

Series A companies with $500k in ARR attract strong investors. Best startups in the sector manage to reach the $500k benchmark in less than 18 months of operation. From this level, top-performing startups can reach $1 Mn in 18–24 months, which largely depends on the company’s ability to get relevant customers.

 Average Contract Value:

Contrary to founders’ concern, Average Contract Value (ACV) is rather a misleading point of comparison as cybersecurity goods and services, along with their business models, sales motions, and customer profiles, are far too divergent when compared across the industry. However, despite the divergence, it is expected that growth-oriented companies can improve their ACV over time as the company develops additional features and improves their ability to secure large enterprise customers.

 Initial Paying Customers:

On average, successful US-based cybersecurity startups will have closed their first payment within 12 months of their seed round. A company should aim to secure at least one paying customer one full year from initial funding. As per YL Ventures, at around the 18-month mark, a startup should aim for at least 10 paying customers. However, security startups in traditional and heavily regulated sectors may have a smaller number of contracts. They should instead focus on the size of the contract.

 Hiring:

On average, successful startups will have a go-to-market (GTM) executive within the first year of securing seed funding. Apart from this, successful startups tend to have about 25 full-time employees by the 18-month mark, and the number doubles at around two years.

Cybersecurity’s demand on rise

The number of cyber threats is growing in current times, and they are not expected to decline in the near future. It is expected that over the next five years, global cybercrime costs will be rising by 15% per annum, and is estimated to reach $10.5 Tn by 2025. As businesses have made a shift towards a digitized economy, they need to protect themselves from such malicious attacks. Security companies are building themselves continuously with the necessity to deal with the present and possible threats. Contrary to the horizontal approach which focuses on enterprise applications, cybersecurity has now been focusing on the vertical approach so that specific pain points of each industry can be addressed.

The global spending on cybersecurity products and services is estimated to reach $1.75 Tn between 2021 and 2025. This number suggests the huge TAM potential that the industry holds in ensuring cyber safety. As the security concern comes to the forefront in business discussions, the cybersecurity bubble is going to rise and is not expected to burst any time soon.

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This article has been co-authored by Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

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