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May 24, 2023

Money Moves: Private Equity & Venture Capital

Private equity versus venture capital, a guide to their similarities, differences, and inner-workings

The world’s economy rests on the shoulders of privately held companies. The fuel of these institutions is money. Capital for the capitalist. External funding sources sustain companies, preventing economic collapse. Stability and growth thus depend on investment. It is an investor’s world and we are just living in it. In this article, we will delve deeper into private equity and venture capital to understand the way our world works a bit better.

What is private equity?

According to Investopedia, private equity describes investment partnerships that buy and manage companies before selling them. Private equity firms operate these investment funds on behalf of institutional and accredited investors”.

Private equity refers to investments made in private companies that are not publicly traded, meaning their stocks are not open to the general population. Upon investing in a company, the private equity firm either acquires the business in its entirety or invests in a buyout. The responsibility for the company’s future then lies in the hands of the private equity firm. Thus, the firm works closely with the management team to maximize value.

But where does the money come from? Private equity firms typically raise funds from institutional investors, loans from the bank, and very wealthy people. Institutional investors are companies, the state, or organizations that invest money on behalf of another. These investments include pension funds-- the money given to employees after they retire (so it works for itself), and sovereign wealth funds-- the government’s reserve of surplus money used to better the economy.

What is venture capital?

According to Investopedia, an investor’s Bible, venture capital is a form of private equity and a type of financing that investors provide to startup companies and small businesses that are believed to have long-term growth potential”.

Basically the premise of Shark Tank, a famous American reality television show, in exchange for an investment, venture capitalists own an equity stake in a business they believe would be very profitable, very fast. Venture capital firms do not manage a company directly, but provide funding and guidance to assist its growth. Venture partners, specifically, help manage a firm’s portfolio companies. Usually, funding is given to early-stage companies, which have an idea that could potentially disrupt the market. Similar to private equity, venture capitalists collect funds from affluent investors, investment banks, and other financial institutions. While venture capitalism can be incredibly rewarding for both the VC firm and the startup, it's also a highly competitive field. In an endless quest for the next big thing, firms receive a huge volume of pitches. This means that startups need to have a compelling pitch and a strong business plan in order to stand out.

Similarities between private equity and venture capital

Certain animals need particular habitats. A fish couldn’t survive in the Sahara. Likewise, a laissez-faire paradigm is the habitat for the big fish in private equity and venture capital. A mode of operations that is free from economic intervention. Since both investments share core values of liberalism, aside from their fundraising process and revenue-driven focus, there are numerous similarities between private equity and venture capital.

Both forms of private investment rely on limited partners or LPs, who commit capital to a venture fund, and are free of any other obligations. As elaborated above, these sources of funding are either wealthy individuals or institutional investors. Using this capital, value is created.

Both private equity and venture capital invest in privately-held companies. The stock of a privately held company is not offered for public subscription or publicly negotiated in the respective listed markets but is offered, owned, traded, or exchanged privately or over the counter.

Private equity and venture capital firms charge management fees to their investors. This fee is usually a percentage of the total amount of capital committed to the fund, and it is used to cover the operating expenses of the firm, including salaries, rent, and other overhead costs. The management fee is typically 1.5 to 2 percent of assets under management.

Both endeavors aim to land a profit-- either by growing the company or finding a fruitful exit in an acquisition or buyout. Therefore, they undertake similar company management measures, such as examining customer service processes, to earn more than they invest. The remaining profit, as Marx would say, is reflective of their labour power.

Differences between private equity and venture capital

Marx once said, “[w]hile the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser”. I like to think that a venture capitalist is a capitalist gone mad, and one in private equity is a rational miser. A shark and an ant. Those in private equity and venture capital might be the puppeteers of the show, but how are the two fields different?

Private equity firms typically have a broader scope of investment, targeting companies across various industries and stages of development. In contrast, venture capitalists concentrate on high-growth sectors like cleantech, biotech, and technology, where there is a potential for rapid expansion and substantial returns on investment.

While private equity firms aim for a doubling of their investment over a few years, venture capitalists seek a significantly higher return, often around eight to ten times their initial investment, reflecting the risk associated with high-growth companies.

The percentage of a company acquired greatly differs between the two investments. In private equity, a 100 percent or major stake is bought, giving them full control of the company, while venture capitalists hold only a minority or equity stake.

Private equity firms typically have larger staff and budgets compared to VC firms. This is because private equity firms often work with more established companies and engage in larger-scale deals, requiring additional resources for due diligence, financial analysis, and operational support.

Private equity firms tend to invest in a well-established company with steady growth, whereas venture capitalists fund a startup at its initial stage when they expect exponential growth of a disruptive idea.

In this area, VCs are more optimistic than private equity firms. VCs wait for one of their portfolio companies to become the next Facebook, allowing them to earn earth-shattering returns. Private equity firms, because their stakes are higher, cannot take the risk of a failed company.

VCs take less accountability for their portfolio companies, thus, hoping to profit when their portfolio companies do. Private equity firms are more involved in the growth of companies they have a stake in, resorting to management or modes of cash generation for revenues.

Private equity firms typically attract investment bankers, while VCs find a mix of product managers, business development professionals, consultants, and former entrepreneurs. The working focus in private equity is more quantitative, while venture capital requires more meetings and networking.

PE versus VC

Source of return
Size (of firm)
Stage of investment
Management fee
Private Equity
Limited partners
Financial engineering
Venture Capital
Limited partners
Company’s valuation
Equity stake
Technology mainly

Private equity: how does it work?

Private equity investors typically raise pools of capital from limited partners and form a fund known as a private equity fund. They then invest that capital into promising, privately owned companies. These companies might be stagnant or potentially distressed but still have growth potential, and the most common deal type is a leveraged buyout (LBO).

An LBO is when an investor buys a big part of a company, giving them control over it. They pay for this using some of their own money (equity) and borrowing a lot of money from a group of banks (debt). The company under their wing, so to say, now owes a sum of money to the banks, but not the investor. The private equity firm then works with its portfolio company to make it more profitable, so it can pay back the borrowed money without hurting its financial situation.

If a private equity firm sells one of its portfolio companies to another company or investor, it usually makes a profit and distributes returns to the limited partners that invested in its fund. Some private equity-backed companies may also go public, providing additional opportunities for investors to attain a return on their investment.

Infographic > private equity and venture capital how does it work?

Examples of PE-backed companies

The following companies were once or currently owned by a private equity firm, and eventually bought out for profit.

PetSmart - pet products and services retailer based in Phoenix

Toys R Us - America’s most popular toy, clothing, and baby product retailer

Claire’s - an accessory store with branches across the globe

Liveo Research - a manufacturer of pharmaceutical and specialty packaging innovations

Neiman Marcus Group - owns specialty retail and luxury apparel stores across America

Most famous PE firms

The following firms are most recognized for their private equity ventures in the US and Europe

Blackstone Group - owner and operator of dating application Bumble, a firm that invests in real estate, public debt, and secondary funds

Carlyle Group - multinational private equity, alternative asset management, and financial services

CVC Capital Partners - manages assets worth $87 billion whose portfolio includes over 110 companies worldwide

Thoma Bravo - with more than 40 years of experience in providing capital and management support to software and technology companies

TPG Capital - participated in the buyout of Continental Airlines and Petco, founded in 1992

Venture capital: how does it work?

Venture capital firms rely on opening funds and obtaining commitments from limited partners to secure the capital required for investing in private companies with high growth potential. These firms invest the pooled funds into promising companies, usually belonging to the technology sector given its disruptive quality, which go through various stages of the venture capital ecosystem as they grow. VC firms typically specialize in one or two funding stages (pre-seed, seed, series A, series B…), which shapes their investment strategy.

When a company in the portfolio of a VC firm is acquired or undergoes an initial public offer, in which case the company sells its stocks to the public, the firm realizes a profit and distributes returns to the limited partners who committed capital to its fund. Venture capital firms may generate profits by selling some of their shares in the portfolio company to another investor on the secondary market. Venture capital firms rely on choosing their portfolio companies wisely. A mix of skillful investment selection, active portfolio management, and successful exit strategies help generate positive returns for the firms, and their limited partners.

Examples of VC-backed companies

The following companies’ equity is held partially or completely by venture capital firms

Juul - an electronic cigarette manufacturer from San Francisco

Spotify - a famous digital music service founded in Sweden

Space-X - space technology that designs and builds rockets based in California

Amlo Biosciences - laboratory in England, conducting research in cancer biomarkers

Airbnb - online marketplace for short and long-term homestays headquartered in San Francisco

Most famous VC firms

The following firms are most recognized for their venture capital efforts in the US and Europe

Venrock - founded in California, in 1969, mainly invests in software, cloud services, and other tech

Sequoia Capital - based in California, in 1972, primary LPs are non-profits and schools, specializes in the technology sector

Accel - responsible for funding technology companies like Facebook, Slack, Venmo, started in California, in 1983

Index Ventures - originating from a Swiss firm in 1996, specializes in e-commerce, fintech, gaming, and security

Speed Invest - founded in Austria, in 2011, which funds tech startups in their initial stage, with a capacity over one billion euros

Private equity or venture capital: the expert opinions

When it comes to fueling business growth, two formidable investment approaches take center stage: private equity and venture capital. These financial powerhouses operate in distinct realms—private equity propels established companies forward, while venture capital sets its sights on high-potential startups. But which path holds the key to success? Let's delve into the dynamic world of private equity and venture capital to uncover the nuances that shape their impact. To do this, we asked three experts on their opinion on the subject.

Private equity offers hands-on support

Having worked in the finance field for several years, I can confidently say that private equity is the better choice than venture capital. I believe this because private equity firms tend to have more control over the companies they invest in. Unlike venture capital firms that typically invest in early-stage startups and have little say in the company's operations, private equity firms often take a hands-on approach to their investments. They can provide guidance, resources, and expertise to help the company reach its full potential. I've seen firsthand how this kind of support can transform a struggling company into a profitable one. By choosing private equity, companies can benefit from this kind of close involvement and achieve greater success in the long run.

Lorien Strydom, Executive Country Manager,

Private equity: flexibility and earnings

Both private equity and venture capital have their advantages. It totally depends on the needs of the business to choose between private equity and venture capital. According to me, the best choice would be private equity because it lets you buy companies from any industry.

Whereas, venture capital is limited to startups from industries like biotechnology, clean technology, and others. Venture capital deals with only equity while private equity firms can use both cash and debt in their investment.

Moreover, first-year associates can earn between $200k to $300k with private equity. It is 50% less than what venture capital might offer. So there are many other reasons to choose private equity over venture capital. But you should consider all the factors and then make a decision.

Saikat Ghosh, Associate Director - HR and Business, Technource

Stable returns in private equity

One specific reason why a person may choose private equity over venture capital is that private equity typically offers more stable returns than venture capital. Since private equity invests in established companies with a proven track record, there is typically less risk involved in these investments compared to venture capital, which invests in new companies that may or may not succeed. Moreover, private equity funds tend to have longer investment horizons than venture capital funds, which means that investors in private equity are often willing to wait longer for returns. This longer investment horizon can also lead to more predictable returns, as private equity investors have more time to work with companies to optimize their operations and increase their profitability.

Joe Hall, SEO Consultant, Hall Analysis


A child asked his father, “what do you do for work?”

The father replied, “I invest money in businesses, so I profit when they profit.”

“So you do nothing?” the child snickered.

Investing in private equity and venture capital helps investors diversify their portfolios and make a high return on investment. Both fields involve funding companies in exchange for a stake in the business, the rush of ownership. While venture capital involves higher risks and returns, private equity focuses on total involvement and reliability.

As difficult as it is, to condense fields of finance that have been invaluable to the global economy since the second world war, major differences between private equity and venture capital are as follows. VC firms invest in early-stage companies with high growth potential but have yet to be profitable; PE firms invest in companies seeking expansion or reorganization, prioritizing cash flow. Even though both private investments fund a company, venture capitalists always take a minority stake.

The best choice for a company depends on an array of situations. Established companies, in Sisyphus’ position, whose profits are stagnant despite efforts, should opt for private equity. Their nature of involvement may offer much-needed restructuring and a fresh perspective. For a company that is new in the market, and disruptive, a venture capital firm would be better suited. Due to its less intrusive character, the funding would be the wind beneath your wings.

Kriti Swarup
Kriti Swarup
Content Writer at TechNews180
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