The market is slowing down, but that’s not stopping Canaan, a 35-year-old early stage venture firm that invests in both tech and healthcare. It just closed on $850 million in capital commitments across two new funds: a $650 million flagship fund — its 13th — and a separate $200 million fund to support its breakaway portfolio companies.
The amount is slightly more than the $800 million that Canaan gathered for its 12th flagship fund in October 2020 and brings the firm’s assets under management to $6.8 billion.
That Canaan closed an opportunity-style fund in the current market is somewhat counterintuitive. Some institutional investors privately grouse that they don’t like later-stage funds hosted by early-stage investors as it complicates their ability to properly diversify their own investments.
A growing number of early-stage investors are also deciding to forego dedicated late-stage funds owing to a market where exits are few and IPOs are even more rare. Lux Capital, for example, is raising a single fund after previously raising more than one fund at once; Felicis, another early-stage investor, recently made the same decision.
But Maha Ibrahim, a longtime general partner at Canaan who joined the outfit 23 years ago, says there are numerous reasons for that second fund. First, she points to a subset of the firm’s portfolio companies — on both the tech and healthcare sides — that require more capital. She says, too, that with many investors “sitting on their hands at the late stage” right now, the new fund gives Canaan a “great way to support companies and get a lot more ownership in them.” Ibrahim further insists the flagship fund was “oversubscribed” and that the team wanted to “make room for supportive LPs.”
It’s understandable why its ongoing backers might have wanted to re-up. Over the past five years, says Canaan, the firm has seen ten IPOs, four public listings, and eight M&A exits, generating roughly $1.7 billion in returns. Some of those outcomes include the IPO of Day One Biopharmaceuticals in May 2021, TheRealReal in June 2019, and the biopharmaceutical company Arvinas in September 2018.
Canaan was also an investor in the customer service software company Kustomer, acquired by Meta for $1 billion in February 2022, though Meta is now reportedly considering different divestiture options for the outfit as part of a plan for broader cost cuts. Another portfolio company, Axis Security, was meanwhile acquired by Hewlett Packard Enterprise just last month for undisclosed terms.
Ibrahim also underscores that Canaan is “really an early-stage focused fund” and wanted its main fund to reflect as much. “It’s cleaner for us,” she says.
As for where that capital may wind up, areas that have a “very strong market pull right now,” says Ibrahim, include cybersecurity, where Canaan has already been active, including as an early investor in the eight-year-old outfit Snyk (currently valued at roughly $7.4 billion) and the industrial cybersecurity company Dragos, whose valuation reached $1.7 billion in 2021.
“It’s our intention to back winners at reasonable prices,” she says. “We’re powering into a market where there will be up rounds for the winners, but I don’t think at nearly the stratospheric valuations as before.”
The firm remains interested as ever in certain areas within healthcare, too, including immunology, neurobiology, and cardio. Canaan even incubates such companies on occasion, including co-founding Day One Biopharmaceuticals.
“We saw opportunities within oncology that we could focus on, so we thought why should we let others start it if we can do it?” says Ibrahim.