Startup companies can come in all forms, but the phrase “startup company" is often associated with high growth, technology-oriented companies, many of which seek to disrupt an existing market or to create a new market. Investors are generally most attracted to those new companies distinguished by their risk/reward profile and scalability.
That is, they have lower bootstrapping costs, higher risk, and higher potential return on investment. Successful startups are typically more scalable than an established business, in the sense that they can potentially grow rapidly with limited investment of capital, labor or land. Startups encounter several unique options for funding. Venture capital firms and angel investors may help startup companies begin operations, exchanging cash for an equity stake. In practice though, many startups are initially funded by the founders themselves. Factoring is another option, though not unique to startups. Some new funding opportunities are also developing in crowd funding.
A critical task in setting up a business is to conduct research in order to validate, assess and develop the ideas or business concepts in addition to opportunities to establish further and deeper understanding on the ideas or business concepts as well as their commercial potential.
If a company's value is based on its technology, it is often equally important for the business owners to obtain intellectual property protection for their idea. The newsmagazine The Economist estimated that up to 75% of the value of US public companies is now based on their intellectual property (up from 40% in 1980). Often, 100% of a small startup company's value is based on its intellectual property. As such, it is important for technology oriented startup companies to develop a sound strategy for protecting their intellectual capital as early as possible.
Startup companies, particularly those associated with new technology, sometimes produce huge returns to their creators and investors – a recent example of such was Google, whose creators are now billionaires through their share ownership. However, the failure rate of startup companies is very high.
While there are startup businesses created in all types of businesses, and all over the world, some locations and business sectors are particularly associated with startup companies. The Internet bubble of the late 1990s was associated with huge numbers of internet startup companies, some selling the technology to provide internet access, others using the internet to provide services. Most of this startup activity was located in Silicon Valley, an area of northern California renowned for the high level of startup company activity:
The spark that set off the explosive boom of “Silicon startups” in Stanford Industrial Park was a personal dispute in 1957 between employees of Shockley Semiconductor and the company’s namesake and founder, Nobel laureate and co-inventor of the transistor William Shockley... (His employees) formed Fairchild Semiconductor immediately following their departure... After several years, Fairchild gained its footing, becoming a formidable presence in this sector. Its founders began to leave to start companies based on their own, latest ideas and were followed on this path by their own former leading employees... The process gained momentum and what had once began in a Stanford’s research park became a veritable startup avalanche... Thus, over the course of just 20 years, a mere eight of Shockley’s former employees gave forth 65 new enterprises, which then went on to do the same... (Gregory Gromov, 2010)
A company may cease to be a startup as it passes various milestones, such as becoming profitable, or becoming publicly traded in an IPO, or ceasing to exist as an independent entity via a merger or acquisition. Companies may also fail and cease to operate altogether. Recently the patent assets of these failed startup companies are being purchased by what are derogatorily known as "Patent trolls" who then take the patents from the companies and assert those patents against companies that might be infringing the technology covered by the patent.