2023 Lookback for Cortado Ventures
At Cortado Ventures, we’re excited for 2024. In our company meeting this week, we strategized our position in the Midcontinent market and what it will take to source, select, and support the best and most innovative startups. Let’s look back at 2023 for VC and our firm to set the stage for an exciting 2024.
Most portended a recession that didn’t materialize but still looms. Everyone experienced the impact of rising interest rates, whether they were aware of it or not. The S&P gained 24% last year and, as of this writing, reached a new record, recovering 2022 losses. Private markets, typically a lagging indicator that doesn’t grab headlines, gained attention when Silicon Valley Brank cratered. Fortune writer Jessica Mathews summarized 2023 for venture well in “How the venture crash played out in 2023, in 4 charts.” Consumer and AI optimism buoyed the public markets, but venture suffered in the major coastal hubs.
Even more challenging to ascertain is how early-stage investing fared in non-traditional regions, such as the Midcontinent where Cortado Ventures invests in frontier technology startups. Our corner of the market was less affected by the exuberance and value inflation of major coastal hubs, and our companies doubled down on margin and profitability. While 2020–21 was defined by the distribution of venture opportunities, 2022–23 is defined by a dislocation of value. To be clear: we are not immune to market movements, but we are vaccinated against its harshest effects.
Below is a snapshot of Cortado Ventures in 2023.
- Raised $80M for Fund II, including institutional investors, building on Fund I’s success. We raised four sidecar SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles) to open access for our investors to invest further into growing companies, a win-win for us, our investors, and the companies we back.
- Grew our Fund II portfolio, investing in 10 companies: Moove AI, ArborXR, Cadenza Bio, CorriXR, Mate Fertility, Moat Bio, Nuview, Ox, PatchRx, and Teren 4D. These companies embody the frontier technology developing in the Midcontinent, whether innovating at the intersection of artificial intelligence/machine learning and the physical world, or big data and physiology. With technologies that scale insight and capacity in moving people and things, treat intractable diseases or improve healthcare, these companies are redefining their sectors.
- With our ability to double down in the most promising companies, we re-upped in eight companies across both Fund I and II portfolios, including many up-rounds — something hard to find in the 2023 venture market.
- Across Fund I, which is in the initial stages of maturation, our companies on average grew 50%, including some with up to 1,000% or even 2,000% growth. Several companies scored their largest customer yet — even the largest customer in their sector — and grew average contract value while increasing net retention.
- Most of our companies hit a major milestone, whether a successful pilot, clinical trial, or converting to first commercial revenue. Four companies hit profitability, unleashing growth off the balance sheet (and no more dilution for Cortado!).
- Further developing our model of incubating companies, we helped start (or restart with new leadership) three companies, plus one soon to be announced that went from formation to nearly $1M ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) in one month, and another on the way. Ground up company creation is challenging work but high value, a testament to the flywheel created with our growing ecosystem.
- Our investments have been followed on by big name investors including Raytheon, Cendana Capital, Mercury, Mayo Clinic, MaC Venture Capital, ARCH Venture Partners, Leonardo DiCaprio, B Capital, Rise of the Rest, Amazon, Google, Asymmetry Ventures.
- Cortado and our companies appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Axios, TechCrunch, Venture Capital Journal, TIME, and others totaling dozens of publications and nearly 100 articles. It’s great to see your name in the paper, and even better for our companies to get well-earned recognition to drive more opportunities. This media coverage also indicates a broader trend: venture capital is unmistakably growing in the “domestic emerging market” of the Midcontinent. And this is worth paying attention to.
- Many Cortado companies were recognized as best-in-class by industry publications and events or featured at big events like SXSW. Cortado was named the ‘Finance Innovator of the Year’ by 405 Business. At least eight Cortado companies received awards for being the top startup in their category or region — or even the best in America — including two which were named a ‘Best Invention’ by TIME Magazine, Nuview and Pipedream.
- Venture capital is the art of the new, so it is important for us to always develop our understanding and insights in our areas of influence. We share this in many ways, including articles in our Medium blog and in other publications. In 2023 we published 15 articles on our investments and market observations, plus half a dozen others in local and regional publications.
- Sharing the stories of innovators, investors, and builders in the Midcontinent, we launched our podcast, the Midcon Markup. The podcast goes behind the headlines to hear candid stories of success and failure that uniquely make up our market.
- Our monthly ‘Doubleshot Newsletter’ reaches thousands, and in 2023 was actively read by over 4,000 unique readers. This newsletter shares about the activity of Cortado’s team, companies, and partners.
- Cortado team members spoke at dozens of major venues including some of the biggest in the business like TechCrunch Disrupt and the World Economic Forum Davos meeting. You can also find recordings of our leadership in podcasts hosted all over the country.
- Hosted the first ever Midcontinent Venture Capital Summit. The standing-room-only MVCS featured 250 people representing founders, investors, and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders from 34 cities, 15 states, and 5 different countries. With over 60 seed+ founders and more than 100 accredited investors, these attendees represented a total of $100B AUM of investors and funds, including representatives from Perot Jain, Koch, Walton, and George Kaiser Family Offices.
- Connecting builders and backers, and further developing VC and startup know-how, we hosted eight other events including funder/founder dinners, the second annual University of Oklahoma Venture Capital Case Competition, our Annual General Meeting, lunch gathering of all Oklahoma VCs, and a workshop on building prototypes in collaboration with Gitwit.
- Building an ecosystem requires tremendous partners, and we have many running best-in-class programs to support entrepreneurs, like gener8tor, Verge, 36 Degrees North, 19days, and i2E. This wouldn’t be possible if not for our sponsors.
- Venture capital is a network-driven investment class, and to that end we connect with some of the best innovators and investors in the world. Our team traveled to eight countries, 11 states, and 24 cities for different opportunities to learn from the best. Whether meeting founders at a pitch event in Tulsa, or networking with investors in Dubai, Cortado fosters meaningful connections.
- It’s been my great honor to join the Kauffman Fellowship. This two-year experience is the most sought-after VC program in the world, with deep intentional training on the practice of VC investing and firm development, and networking with the top VCs in every field.
Venture Capital in 2024: Navigating the New Wave of Innovation and Market Realignment
As we step into 2024, the venture capital landscape is undergoing a transformative phase, echoing the dynamic shifts in technology and market environments we’ve observed in recent years. The venture world is bracing itself for a period of recalibration and strategic foresight, mirroring the pioneering spirit we’ve championed at Cortado Ventures.
- Market Correction: A Rebalancing Act: The VC industry is witnessing a market correction — a phenomenon reminiscent of the natural ebb and flow of technological waves. The era of inflated valuations and speculative investments is giving way to more grounded and sustainable growth models. This ‘right-sizing’ reflects the industry’s maturation, as it adapts to the new realities of global economics and investor expectations. Raising private capital will remain challenging. With high-interest rates and pessimism, raising money for any fund, company, or project will continue to be a grind.
- AI and Tech: The Frontiers of Innovation: The spotlight on AI and tech innovation remains undimmed, although it’s now more discerning. The industry expects a slight tempering in AI investment frenzy, focusing instead on utility and practical applications. This trend is akin to the early days of the internet, where initial exuberance gradually paved the way for substantial, life-altering technologies. Hundreds of startups will claim to use AI in a novel way, and most of it will be a waste. We are at the top of the hype cycle, but you will not see an FTX/crypto-style collapse since AI is now so well distributed across every subsector and use case (no single failure point).
- Emerging Markets: The New Frontier: Echoing our belief in the untapped potential of regions like the Midcontinent, the VC industry is turning its gaze towards emerging markets. Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia are emerging as new hubs of innovation, reminiscent of our repurposing of the “Midcontinent” term to signify our burgeoning tech sector.
- Challenges and Optimism: The Duality of Growth: The road ahead is lined with challenges — from startup layoffs to industry restructuring. Yet, there’s a prevailing sense of optimism, a sentiment we at Cortado Ventures resonate with deeply. It’s a time for strategic investments, focusing on sectors poised for growth despite the hurdles.
- Sector-Specific Trends: Diversification and Depth: Sectors like climate tech and green technology are gaining traction, much like the early days of the renewable energy sector. Similarly, cryptocurrency is stepping into a new era of regulation and mainstream acceptance, a journey like that of early fintech innovations.
- External Factors: The Unseen Catalysts: The VC landscape of 2024 isn’t immune to external influences — geopolitical tensions, economic shifts, and even the U.S. presidential election are pivotal factors that could sway the market, much like how broader economic and social trends have historically influenced investment patterns.
- The Search for Exits: Lastly, and most arcane, you will see early-stage investors find liquidity in secondary markets. As seed investors, we can realize meaningful returns through partial recapitalizations (selling part of our interest in a company) while also not sending a negative signal. The expectation that a seed investor will hang on through IPO is gone. The secondary market is the most active it’s ever been, and investors in private markets are taking notice.
In essence, 2024 in the venture capital world is about embracing the new while respecting the fundamentals. It’s about navigating the changing tides with the same pioneering spirit and strategic acumen that define the ethos of Cortado Ventures. Just as we’ve seen technology and innovation infiltrate new areas beyond traditional geographies, the VC industry is poised to harness these changes, driving forward into an era of nuanced growth and intelligent investing.