Survey reveals access to talent the top policy concern for US startups

Silicon Valley Bank report finds most startups expect business conditions will improve in 2019, despite global economic and political uncertainty


Many startups in the US, China, the UK and Canada remain optimistic about business opportunities in the year ahead, with many planning to raise capital and increase the size of their workforces throughout 2019, according to a report commissioned by Silicon Valley Bank (SVB).

The 10th anniversary edition of SVB's Startup Outlook Report found that many startups were keen to continue exploring ways to access and attract top talent in order to remain innovative and attractive to investors, in spite of economic and political uncertainty across the globe.

The survey gathered the thoughts and opinions of 1,400 startup founders and executives on topics ranging from business conditions, funding and gender parity, to workforce diversity, trade tensions between the US and Chinese, and the impact of Brexit.

According to SVB CEO Greg Becker, in spite of uncertainty fueled by economic and political volatility, many of the survey's respondents said they were "optimistic about opportunities to fund their businesses, expand their workforces and continue innovating".

"While much has changed [in the US] in a decade, hiring top talent has been cited as a top challenge since our first report, and it's the same in the UK, China and Canada," said Becker. "Entrepreneurs seldom speak with one voice, but this report underscores the unified need to find solutions to accessing talent – or risk a slowdown in innovation."

Concerns over healthcare costs for employees and cybersecurity ranked highly for many US startups, but access to talent remained the top policy concern in the US, as it has in previous years.

SVB found that 60% of US entrepreneurs expected business conditions to improve in 2019 compared to 2018, with just 9% believing business conditions would worsen. While only 24% said that the current fundraising environment was not challenging, 71% of US startups were able to successfully raise capital in 2018.

Half of US startups said they expected VCs to be their next source of funding, with a similar percentage of US startups saying their realistic, long-term goal was to be acquired.

AI and big data were the technologies the majority of US startups said offered the most promise, but approximately 50% said they were concerned that trade policy between the US and China would hurt their businesses in 2019.

More than 80% of US startups said they were undertaking hiring processes, but 91% said finding workers with the skills necessary to grow their business was "somewhat or extremely challenging".

Meanwhile, the percentage of startups with at least one woman in an executive position grew from 43% in 2018 to 53% in 2019.

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