In a year of uncertainty, one thing is clear: COVID-19 changed the business world indefinitely.
Previously stable industries, from airlines to hospitality, suffer from unprecedented adversity in 2020. At the same time, emerging sectors experience record growth—and appear ready for future success.
This post reviews three growing industries that are thriving during the COVID-19 economic downturn: SaaS (software as a service), biotechnology (biotech), and agricultural technology (agtech). We explain why these fields expect to see continued growth after we emerge from the pandemic.
As COVID-19 forces companies to change the way they work, it’s no surprise that SaaS is surging. Government-imposed pandemic safety restrictions cause remote work to increase by 400 percent. Companies increasingly lean on SaaS to help employees simulate the in-office experience while working remotely.
- SaaS video and chat platforms like Slack and Zoom help teams stay connected regardless of where employees work.
- Legal professionals use services like DocuSign and Adobe Sign to authenticate essential paperwork without meeting in person.
- Project managers use management tools like Asana and Trello to streamline workflows and keep employees on task.
Venture capital executives attribute SaaS’s growth to its value in an increasingly virtual world. In March, Steve Loughlin, a partner at venture capital firm Accel, told his SaaS portfolio companies not to expect cash influxes for up to 24 months. But investors flocked to SaaS, and Loughlin reversed his course. “A large number of companies have seen their businesses accelerate in enterprise software collaboration cloud,” says Loughlin, “because companies are finding these emerging tools necessary to run their companies in this new way.”
Maha Ibrahim, a general partner at venture capital firm Canaan, notices the same trend.
Ibrahim says she’s never seen a more active SaaS market in her 20 years of experience. “Valuations are the highest that I’ve ever seen, and the pace at which deals are getting done, particularly at the mid and late stage, is astounding.” According to Ibrahim, the average cloud company grows at a 35% year-over-year pace and is worth about 17 times its current revenue.
As major companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Zillow shift to a permanent remote-work model, SaaS demand grows. While the industry valuation was $10B in 2010, experts predict SaaS will own a $157 billion market share by the end of 2020. From 2021, forecasters project growth to continue at CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 10%, reaching $253 billion in 2023.
With the world racing for a COVID-19 vaccine and treatments, biotech companies see a tremendous increase in demand for their services. By mid-August, over 37 venture-backed North American life sciences companies went public, raising a total of $6.7 billion. Over the entirety of 2019, 51 IPOs in the same field raised a total of $5 billion. As a result, by only the third quarter of 2020, biotech IPOs had exceeded their total 2019 valuation by 34%.
Biotech companies specializing in COVID-19 treatments lead the 2020 surge. Moderna raised nearly $2 billion through the year’s first two quarters. The biotech company is a top vaccine candidate thanks to its RNA-based approach to fighting COVID-19. Regeneron is another biotech company leading the way in COVID-19 treatment research. Its stock is up 53% year-to-date.
Biotech firms focusing outside of COVID-19 are also seeing substantial growth this year. According to Landen Williams, a partner at consulting firm WilliamsMarston, a diverse range of biotech companies grow from increased public attention on the sector.
“There’s the COVID-19 direct winners,” says Landen, “and then there’s indirect winners where people are saying, ‘Hey, I want to put my investment dollars into the biotech industry’ because it’s on the news every day.”
Surging biotech companies that focus on research beyond COVID-19 include:
- Relay Therapeutics, a biotech firm searching for innovative methods for cancer treatment. The company raised $400M in a late July offering.
- Allovir, which creates treatments for patients with decreased T-cell levels. The firm raised $318M entering the 4th quarter of 2020.
- Legend Biotech, which specializes in cellular therapy. Legend raised $424M in its June IPO.
Experts see biotech continuing to grow in the coming years. Scott Plumridge, managing partner at Washington D.C. private equity firm Halifax Group, believes COVID-19 re-shapes public opinion about the entire medical industry. “With everybody’s focus on vaccine and therapeutic development related to COVID, people really appreciate the importance of R&D and innovation by [biotech] companies,” says Plumridge.
No matter when biotech creates a vaccine for COVID-19, the entire industry benefits from being thrust into the global spotlight—in 2020 and beyond.
Agricultural technology, or agtech, refers to using advanced technology to optimize farming efficiency and yields. Like SaaS and biotech, the agtech sector soars during the global pandemic.
In both 2018 and 2019, venture capitalists invested $4 billion annually into agtech startups. By the middle of Q3 2020, venture capitalists already poured $2.6 billion into the agtech sector. Thanks to these investments, this sector is on pace to set a new funding record in 2020.
Seana Day is a partner at Better Food Ventures, which invests in agtech startups. She says that COVID-19 prompts companies to invest in the sector. “There was a disconnect between demand signals and supply [early in the pandemic], which is why you saw empty grocery shelves,” Day says. “At the same time, the dairy farmers were dumping milk because they didn’t have a process in place to massively produce small consumer packaging.” Day believes these inefficiencies lead global food and agriculture fund managers to turn to agtech for new ways to optimize their processes
Major companies back up Day’s assertion. Tyson Foods recently named Dean Banks, a former Silicon Valey executive, as company CEO. Before joining Tyson, Banks led Alphabet’s subsidiary X, which developed Google’s self-driving car. Banks is already seeking ways for Tyson to reduce its global footprint and invest in alternative proteins—forward-thinking endeavors that agtech specializes in.
Microsoft is another innovator investing in agtech in 2020. In July, the technology company announced a partnership with Land O’Lakes. Together, the two companies improve agricultural management practices using cloud software solutions.
To do so, Microsoft places antennae on silos and grain elevators, bringing broadband to rural communities. Simultaneously, Microsoft’s new technological infrastructure combines historical data with A.I. to optimize farming techniques.
Land O’Lakes’ network of farmland includes over 150 million acres, which accounts for almost half the 349 million acres in the U.S. By making a substantial investment in this extensive farmland system, Microsoft signals a strong commitment to the agtech sector.
While the world population continues to grow, the amount of farmland available remains finite. This forces agricultural companies to seek innovative ways to meet increasing food demand—and points to agtech continuing to build off its success in 2020.
Stay Ahead in A Global World
Though Saas, biotech, and agtech all address unique challenges, they share a commitment to solving global problems. SaaS helps companies across the world stay connected in an age of social distancing. Biotech seeks solutions to international health crises. And agtech helps the planet’s agricultural systems keep pace with a rising worldwide population. The emergence of these three industries in 2020 points to one key takeaway: global challenges demand solutions that transcend borders.
Velocity Global provides international business consulting expertise and expansion services for companies in over 185 countries. Contact us today to find out how we can help you stay ahead in an increasingly globalized world.