VC fund performance is down sharply — but it may have already hit its lowest point

Venture capital has been hit hard by souring macroeconomic conditions over the past few years and it's not yet clear how the market downturn affected VC fund performance. But recent data from the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System (SFERS) give us something to chew on.

SFERS's venture portfolio recorded a -.9% internal rate of return last year through the third quarter, according to data from the pension fund's May 8 meeting. The data also highlighted that the venture portfolio recorded a 48.8% IRR in 2021 and -19.9% return in 2022.

It's important to remember that these figures include all the venture funds in the portfolio regardless of where they are in their lifecycle and include funds that are still deploying capital. This means that number includes funds that still have money going out and not yet coming in, in addition to funds reaching maturity.

So, what do these numbers tell us? While they don't tell us about each fund's individual performance, or how funds nearing maturity are doing specifically, these numbers do tell us that overall fund performance is down. These metrics also tell us that the venture funds reaching maturity in SFERS's portfolio are not returning capital at a rate high enough to overcome the losses of the portfolio's newer fund commitments.

Comparing numbers from 2022 and 2023 to a year like 2021 is an exercise in comparing anomalies. In a more "normal" year for venture, say 2018, SFERS recorded a 22.3% IRR. This means that despite having at least 20 funds still in their investment period, according to TechCrunch estimates, the overall performance of the funds reaching maturity was pretty solid.

SFERS's performance also shows that the industry may have already hit rock bottom and is on its way to being back to normal. While the pension fund still reported negative IRR in 2023, -0.9% is a positive signal when compared to 2022's -19.9%.

This data in particular is worth paying attention to because SFERS is a pretty active venture LP. The organization has been investing in the asset class for a lot longer than many of its pension fund peers and has amassed a sizable $3.6 billion venture portfolio that is diversified across emerging and established managers, stage and vintage year.

SFERS is a longtime backer of big-name managers. For example, the pension fund has invested more than $273 million into Notable Capital, $250 million in NEA funds and $69 million in Mayfield in the last decade, among many others.

The recent performance hasn't deterred the pension from investing into the asset class, either. The pension fund made 15 commitments to venture funds in 2023 and has made two commitments so far this year, including a $75 million commitment into IVP XVIII and a $40 million commitment to Volition Capital Fund V.

So while venture funds don't seem on the path to knock it out of the park this year in terms of performance, the worst of the downturn's effects may already be behind us.