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Going beyond funding: How VCs can stand out in a dynamic landscape

Capital and network have traditionally been critical advantages for venture capital funds to attract disruptive startups and limited partners. However, in today’s ever-changing innovation landscape, those alone aren’t enough. We take a deep dive to understand how VCs are reinventing themselves to stay relevant and in demand.

In the last few years, the venture capital landscape has been significantly shaped by factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, fluctuating market conditions, accelerating technological advancements and evolving regulatory developments. These changes have also had an impact on the role of venture capital funds (VCs) in the innovation ecosystem.

Previously, the VC-startup relationship was primarily focused around VCs providing funding and helping startups expand their networks. However, for an emerging new generation of startups, capital and network are no longer the be-all and end-all. Instead, they are now favouring investors that not only share their values, but who also support them more actively with strategic guidance, mentorship, and industry connections.

On the other side of the spectrum, limited partners (LPs) are also becoming more discerning in their VC investments. A strong track record alone is not enough now. After the so-called ‘funding winter’ of 2022, LPs now seek resilience and adaptability – which is why a clear investment strategy and a deep understanding of markets and emerging needs are now VC prerequisites for many LPs. 

Amidst these more stringent demands and the emergence of new investors, it is clear that VCs will now need to offer a combination of unique propositions to stand out in an increasingly crowded space. According to Singapore-based PR and marketing firm Redhill, which works closely with VCs, the VCs who have seen this shift and moved quickly to build new capabilities will take the lead.

How VCs are innovating

In Redhill’s experience, trailblazing VCs tend to display innovation in four main categories. 

Specialisation in niche industries: By specialising in niche industries or sectors such as fintech and healthcare, VCs can differentiate themselves by developing deep expertise to identify promising startups more quickly and provide industry-specific value-added services and counsel. This specialisation also helps portray themselves as an industry leader and expert.

This expertise need not always be developed in-house. In fintech and healthcare, many VCs are collaborating with established players to identify investment opportunities and gain insights into market trends. Additionally, VCs are increasingly investing in technologies that are spurring industry growth instead of just the industry itself. This includes supporting companies that are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to transform financial services or healthcare processes.

Making data-driven investment decisions: With the plethora of companies and offerings now available in the market, VCs are increasingly streamlining their investment decision-making by turning to data. This data can include information about market trends, customer behaviour and financial performance. 

Leveraging big data and machine learning algorithms allows firms to rapidly analyse large volumes of information, thus enabling them to identify and act on promising investment opportunities more quickly and accurately. 

Geographic diversification: VCs tend to favour investing in companies located within traditional startup hubs due to the existing supportive infrastructure and environment, but the truly resilient VCs recognise that real opportunities lie in uncharted territory. 

More VC firms are diversifying their portfolios by investing in different regions, which reduces their exposure to any single market. Additionally, by investing in companies outside startup hubs like Silicon Valley, VCs gain access to a wider range of promising startups which might have been overlooked by other investors, allowing them to become early backers and potentially resulting in more valuable exits.

Impact investing: The increasing awareness around sustainability and the environment has led to a parallel focus on impact investing, a form of investing that seeks to generate social and/or environmental impact alongside financial return. 

With more investors now looking for ways to align their investments with their values, many VCs are incorporating impact investing into their investment strategies in response. This trend has led to the emergence of dedicated impact funds, which invest in startups that are addressing social or environmental challenges.

Innovation amongst Asia-based VCs

As an emerging hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship, Asia is increasingly becoming a true test of a VC’s mettle – attracting not only the interest of foreign VCs, but also the rise of the region’s own firms and funds.

To stay ahead of the competition, many Asia-based VCs are leveraging the latest technologies such as data analytics and machine learning to identify trends and enhance their decision-making. They are also choosing to invest in emerging technologies such as AI, blockchain and fintech, which are transforming traditional industries and creating new business opportunities.   

There is also a shift among more Asia-based VCs to favour early-stage investment, particularly in technology companies. This is not a new strategy; Vertex Ventures, another Asian VC, was one of the earliest investors in startup success stories such as Grab. It has earned them a successful investing track record, and they are now doubling down on that strategy in emerging areas such as enterprise technology, consumer internet, healthcare, and fintech among others.

Differentiation through marketing and communication strategy 

Umesh Nair, Managing Director, Redhill

As VCs strive to evolve and reinvent themselves to fit into a new era of innovation, they must not neglect their positioning and communication strategy – which can be instrumental to their market perception and influence their overall success. 

The most successful VCs, says Umesh Nair, Managing Director at Redhill, understand the importance of getting their messaging right and actively work to maintain a cohesive message. “In a market where numerous VC firms adopt similar business models, a well-executed public relations (PR) strategy is paramount in distinguishing and differentiating the firm from its competitors,” he says. 

According to Umesh, any good PR strategy is built around two key components, and PR for VCs is no exception. “The first is to identify a unique value proposition and craft a compelling narrative. The second element is to combine differentiated tactics that back this strategy, such as thought leadership and executive positioning.”

The latter is particularly important, he says, because it builds trust and reputational confidence. “VCs can establish themselves as a thought leader by taking actions that benefit stakeholders (investors, portfolio, employees, etc.) and the broader ecosystem. This can go a long way in building a solid brand for themselves as it builds trust in the firm and contributes to a strong reputation.”

Overall, it is clear that VCs cannot rest on their laurels to stand out in an increasingly competitive space – indeed, many are already kickstarting the process of reinvention. VCs must look deep within and bring new ways to add value to the table, as well as ensuring that they have a strong brand identity and strategy to establish their positioning firmly in the market and remain competitive through any season.