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Canada's tech sector has struggled since last fall as a mixture of macroeconomic events, including the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began triggering supply chain slowdowns and broad uncertainty.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Venture-capital funding in Canada fell to prepandemic levels in the second quarter this year as the tech downturn hit privately held companies, the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association says, and financiers warn that the sector’s sudden caution may continue.

The CVCA said in a new report Thursday that there was $1.65-billion in venture capital (VC) deployed across 182 deals in the second quarter of 2022. It was the lowest quarter since the pandemic prompted a flood of cash into digital-services companies, down 67 per cent from $5.1-billion in the same quarter in 2021. But it was roughly on par with 2019′s $1.66-billion second-quarter investment.

The investment figures the association released for the first half of 2022, however, suggest that the downturn’s true impact will be more starkly revealed in the coming quarters as data catches up with the gap between when deals are first negotiated, closed and then announced.

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In its report, the CVCA said that the $4.5-billion in investments announced in the first quarter – the country’s second-highest quarter on record – was largely comprised of 25 “mega-deals” worth more than $50-million that were “largely residual transactions” from 2021.

Particularly among later-stage companies, “we’re going to see a slowdown that might persist,” Christiane Wherry, the CVCA’s vice-president of research and product, said in an interview. While some of the institutional investors her association works with are “able to stay the course” with financings, she said she’s seen much more caution among smaller VC firms, funds and family offices.

There may now be a “more realistic air” to the venture ecosystem as venture investors spend time “digesting the end of the pandemic and where we go from here,” said Matt Golden of Golden Ventures. Michael Hyatt, entrepreneur, investor and Northleaf Capital Partners adviser, said that financiers “are being highly discriminate about what they are going into.”

Sean O’Connor, managing director of Conexus Venture Capital in Regina and chair of the CVCA’s data committee, said that “founders and VCs are not seeing eye to eye as we figure out what the new world looks like,” which could lead to tension in calculating company valuations.

“We’ve seen the VC space move back into something a bit more normalized from before the pandemic, but it’s a struggle to figure out how much of that regression will show up in valuations.”

The swelling of valuations in both public and private markets during the first two calendar years of the pandemic has been broadly recognized, in hindsight, as a unique moment in which a global shift to digital services coincided with historically low interest rates.

The moment was also precarious. Ms. Wherry acknowledged that 2021′s record-breaking Canadian venture investment levels, which the CVCA calculated as reaching $14.2-billion, was an “outlier year – with record high levels that we probably won’t return to any time soon.”

The tech sector has struggled since last fall as a mixture of macroeconomic events including the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began triggering supply chain slowdowns and broad uncertainty. Subsequent high inflation put pressure on central banks to boost interest rates, making capital more expensive and drying up the pools of investor money that flooded the market for tech companies since the Great Recession.

Not all segments of the tech sector are facing the same headwinds in Canada, according to the CVCA’s numbers. Young, seed-stage companies aren’t exposed to the same investor pressures and economic factors as bigger, cash-consuming firms. They saw $263-million in financing across 104 deals, making the second quarter the highest on record both in terms of total investment and deal number.

Environmentally friendly or sustainability-focused companies, classified as “clean tech,” saw investment levels surpass 2020 levels in the first half of 2022, and the CVCA said the sector could reach 2021 investment levels by the end of the year. “As investors shift their focus from the pandemic, which was an emergency situation, now they’re shifting their focus to something equally as urgent,” Ms. Wherry said.

But in general, the public-market pullback was a shock for later-stage companies that might hope to tap into public markets: the CVCA didn’t record a single initial public offering last quarter, it said.

After numerous massive deals in the first quarter, such as a $775-million round for password-protection company 1Password (AgileBits Inc.), and other “mega” deals such as US$140-million for biotechnology startup Ventus Therapeutics Inc., the biggest deals last quarter were less wide-ranging. They included $185-million for Calgary challenger bank Neo Financial Technologies Inc., $101-million for “unbreakable” pantyhose maker Sheertex Holdings Corp., and $100-million for Toronto virtual-private-network company Tailscale Inc.

The CVCA also reported Thursday that Canada saw $3.3-billion worth of private-equity deals in the second quarter – a 32-per-cent drop – across 202 transactions.

With a report from Sean Silcoff

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