In the decade leading up to 2020’s coronavirus pandemic, money flowing into early-stage companies and start-ups has enabled them to increasingly expand across borders.

fDi’s inaugural Global Venture Capital FDI Ranking has found London to be the most favoured source and destination city for these investments.

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Between 2010 and 2019, the UK capital recorded the highest number of both inbound (240) and outbound (210) greenfield FDI projects announced by private companies financed by venture capital (VC) investors.

London raked in the most VC investment of any European city in 2019. A record $9.7bn was invested into the UK capital’s startups in 2019 – an increase of 87% compared with the previous year, according to Dealroom data. 

New York City was the second most popular destination city, recording 115 inbound projects, followed by Singapore (113), Paris (99), San Francisco (65) and Berlin (63). 

All these cities have proven to be attractive investment destinations for foreign companies due their well developed and globally connected technology ecosystems, with readily available talent, VC funding and large domestic markets.

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Amsterdam and Dublin ranked as the most popular cities for inbound VC-backed FDI relative to their population, recording 25.5 and 22.9 projects per million inhabitants respectively, followed by Singapore (19.6) and London (19.0). 

Although not featured in the top 20 destinations, Vilnius performed particularly well, with 18.6 projects per million inhabitants. 

The Lithuanian capital has become a preferred investment destination relative to its population size, having already ranked first in fDi’s Tech Start-up FDI Attraction Index.

Interconnected expansion

In the past decade, global VC investment soared from $47.3bn to reach over $270bn in 2019, according to private capital data provider Pitchbook. During the same 10-year period, greenfield FDI projects announced by VC-backed companies grew at an annual average rate of over 43%, reaching a record high of 720 projects last year.

fDi’s global analysis of tangible cross-border investments (which create or expand jobs and facilities) made by 844 private VC-financed companies highlights this symbiotic relationship between VC and FDI.

Entrepreneurs raise VC funding to enable their start-ups’ expansion, while venture capitalists invest into start-ups on a hunch that they will witness successful growth and lead to lucrative returns.

Scaling across borders is often a fundamental step to acquiring new customers and achieving long-term growth. The funding, expertise and networks that venture capitalists provide companies in their portfolio facilitates this cross-border expansion.

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Regional highlights

Western Europe was the favoured destination for inbound VC-backed investments, attracting 36% of all projects within the analysis, closely followed by Asia-Pacific (28.6%) and North America (20.6%). The residual 341 greenfield projects were spread across the other remaining world regions.

In Asia-Pacific, Tokyo followed Singapore at distance as the most popular destination, with 50 investment projects, followed by Hong Kong (48) and Bangalore (44). Dubai was the only city in the Middle East and Africa region to make the top 20, with 42 projects announced by 36 investing companies.

While no Latin American cities made the top 20 for inbound VC-backed FDI, São Paulo and Mexico City hosted 16 and 14 projects, respectively. Similarly, in Africa two cities led the continent: Nairobi (8) and Johannesburg (7).

Shanghai hosted 21 greenfield investments, while Beijing was the origin of 22 outbound projects, making them the only two Chinese cities to be among either of the top 20 rankings. 

Sydney and Melbourne stood out in Australasia, garnering a total of 52 and 29 inbound investments, respectively, by VC-backed companies in the last decade.

Tech prevails

Over 70% of the 2294 projects within this analysis were in the tech (software and IT services) industry, creating an estimated total of 14,025 jobs. Almost three-quarters of these technology projects were announced by software publishers outside of video games. 

The increased ability of budding entrepreneurs to build technology companies has led to a proliferation of these successful start-ups that have expanded overseas.

“Costs are coming down on many fronts, as well as the experience level in different markets,” says Bradley Twohig, a partner at LightSpeed Ventures, which ranked in the top 20 most active VCs in late-stage funding rounds in 2019, according to Pitchbook. “International expansion is important to all of our companies,” he adds.

The majority of tech cross-border investments were in sales, marketing and support business activity, which accounted for 78% of the total number of projects versus 65% across all sectors. Tech companies typically expand their support and sales capacity globally to generate revenue in international markets, while keeping their technical and research and development (R&D) teams in headquarters and core locations.

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Active sectors

Real estate was the second most active sector behind tech, accounting for over 5% of investments. Flexible office space providers, which often cater to fast growing tech companies, made up the majority of these investments.

New York-based Knotel was the most active investing company in the ranking, announcing 60 greenfield investments. Montreal-based space-as-a-service provider Breather and Kuala Lumpur-based shared workspace provider Common Ground also respectively ranked 14th and 15th overall.

Automation software companies have also expanded rapidly. New York-based robotic process automation firm UiPath was the second most active investor, with 36 greenfield projects across 26 cities, while Silicon Valley-based rival Automation Anywhere ranked fourth with 27 investments.

Tech companies that facilitate deliveries and mobility were other active investors. Barcelona-based delivery platform Glovo ranked third with 31 greenfield investments, shortly followed by London-based food delivery app Deliveroo (17).

Fintech was another well represented segment. Berlin-based digital bank N26 announced 14 greenfield investments in the 10-year period, while London-based money transfer service WorldRemit announced 11 projects and US payments groups Payoneer, Stripe and Ripple all announced at least 10 investments.

Advertising platforms were the final standout segment, with Singapore-based AnyMind Group ranking sixth with 16 greenfield FDI projects. Johannesburg-based advertising marketplace Ad Dynamo was the only African company to make it into the top 20.

Three quarters of the top 20 companies in this analysis are valued above $1bn – making them ‘unicorns’, often quoted as a mark of success. However, company valuations, which are set when VC funding is raised, are not necessarily a barometer of success; rather they can indicate a company’s capacity for growth and international scalability. 

Major sources

Six locations were the origin of over 100 greenfield investments within the ranking. London came first with 210 projects, followed by Silicon Valley (206), New York (200), San Francisco (156), Singapore (124) and Paris (115).

Among the top 20 locations, Silicon Valley was the origin of the highest number of greenfield projects per capita, sourcing over 76 projects per million inhabitants, shortly followed by Cambridge in the UK, which was the origin of over 51 projects.

Located in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley is home to Stanford university and the headquarters of some of the world’s largest technology companies. Cambridge in the UK is also home to a world renowned university, a hallmark of successful technology ecosystems due to readily available high quality talent.

At the country level, Singapore had the highest number of sourced projects per capita with over 22, shortly followed by Israel (17.2), while Finland (6.7), Ireland (4.4) and New Zealand (4.3) all performed well.

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Israel stands out as a leading source of VC-backed global expansion, with Tel Aviv and Jerusalem ranking in the top 20 source cities, while the smaller cities of Herzliya and Nes Ziona were the origin of 16 and 10 projects respectively.

Israeli-founded data storage provider Infinidat, which ranked 10th overall in this ranking having announced 15 greenfield FDI projects, is a success story of Israel’s tech ecosystem and demonstrates the global connectivity of VC-backed investments.

Founded in 2011 out of Herzliya to the north of Israel’s capital Tel Aviv, Infinidat opened its US headquarters in the city of Needham, Massachussetts before moving to nearby Waltham. It is an example of how many companies are founded in smaller cities, then raise VC funding and expand to set up headquarters and operations in another location.

Success factors

While there are a variety of reasons why VC-backed companies choose to invest in certain locations that differ between sectors and types of businesses, there are some common threads between the leading destinations.

The top three destination cities of London, New York and Singapore are all major global financial hubs, with readily available VC, established technology ecosystems, world leading universities and deep pools of international talent. This not only makes them attractive locations from which to leapfrog into other markets, but also makes them appropriate for VC-backed companies wanting to set up their headquarters in a globally connected ecosystem.

Virus dampener

Coronavirus lockdowns and the stalling of economic activity have led many start-up valuations to plummet and funding to dry up, forcing companies to focus on short-term cost containment rather than longer-term investment plans. 

Just 71 greenfield investments were announced by VC-backed companies in the first quarter of 2020 – 70% less than the same period a year earlier – according to preliminary fDi Markets data, as employee wellbeing and business continuity has become the priority.

As the world grapples with the health and economic effects of the global pandemic, this will put a dampener on the future of VC-backed FDI. However, if the underlying growth of the past decade is any measure, once the world economy enters into its recovery phase, cross-border expansion enabled by VC could be some of the first to be reignited.

Methodology

fDi Intelligence’s inaugural Global Venture Capital FDI Ranking investigates crossborder tangible investments announced by VC-backed start-ups and early-stage companies across the globe between 2010 and 2019. A list of 5900 private VC-backed companies was generated from start-up database Crunchbase - the top 1000 companies for each of the following region (Asia, Australasia, Europe, North America, South America) plus the only 900 companies tracked in Africa - and input into greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets. 

In the ensuing analysis based on the latest fDi Markets data, 844 of 5900 companies announced 2,294 greenfield FDI projects across 332 cities worldwide. From these results rankings were created for where the most greenfield investment projects were both announced from (source city) and made into (destination city). 

These results were analysed on a per capita basis to investigate which cities perform well for their size, and further analysed on a sectoral basis to gauge which types of start-ups were the most active in announcing cross-border job and/or facility creating projects.

fDi Markets data is based on metropolitan areas for all locations except Silicon Valley, which combines projects across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to the south of San Francisco, California.

To be considered for the per capita ranking, cities had to have attracted 6 or more greenfield projects between 2010 and 2019.

Population data was collected from fDi Benchmark where possible, which uses national statistics and includes metropolitan areas. Where unavailable the most up-to-date population figures were collected from City Population.   

It must be noted that this analysis indicates macro trends, and the list of companies included is not exhaustive. Due to the ranking of companies on Crunchbase, some active greenfield investors may have not been included within the analysis. 

The investment projects tracked by fDi Markets are constantly updated and revised based on new intelligence being received and the underlying algorithms are constantly improving their accuracy over time.   

Additional research and data input was conducted by Annie Hessler, Paolo Astone and Taha Ahmed.