Rory McDonald, Emily Cox Pahnke, Benjamin Hallen, and Dan Wang have written a new paper titled, "Exposed: Venture Capital, Competitor Ties, and Entrepreneurial Innovation." In this article, the scholars examine the impact on startups when venture capital firms invest in multiple firms in the same industry. The researchers argue that startups seek out venture capital investments for a variety of reasons, not simply access to funds. They also want the expertise, skills, and advice that venture capitalists have to offer, as well as access to a network of potential partners and customers that the VC firm can tap into for them. What happens though when venture capital firms invest in more than one firm in the same industry? Will their divided attention hurt the startups in which they invest? Will conflicts of interest damage innovation at the startups? In other words, might the venture capitalist end up picking favorites among the startups in which they have invested?
To study these questions, the scholars examined roughly 200 firms working on medical devices related to minimally invasive surgery over a twenty year period. They identified which firms were working in the same market spaces, and they examined the venture capitalists investing in each of these firms. Ultimately, they tracked the new product introduction rate for each firm. What did they find? According to Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge website, "The data showed that companies tied to a competitor by at least one VC firm in common were indeed less innovative than those unencumbered by such ties; in fact, they were 30 percent less likely to introduce a new product in any given year."
The scholars found some other impacts. According to HBS Working Knowledge, "The first was the level of “commitment” a VC had to a particular company, judged by the amount and frequency of funding. The same way a teacher may lavish more attention on a favorite student, the researchers found that VC firms also tended to pick favorites, which did better overall; their competitors were 55 percent less likely to introduce a product."