“It has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur,” said Alex Estevez, venture partner with $10 billion fund Accel, which, he added, is “Looking for deals in this neck of the woods.” He keynoted the Bull City Venture Partners Venture Outlook 2017 in Raleigh, Thursday morning.

He told a packed room of 400 at Brier Creek Country Club that “Entrepreneurs have opportunities they did not have 15 years ago” at the beginning of the dot com era. Estevez recently relocated to South Carolina as Accel increased its hunt for deals in the Southeast.

“The convergence of large markets and cloud platforms, scalable APIs, available building blocks, open source distribution, and vocal and viral communities,” has opened the doors to new opportunities for entrepreneurs, he explained. It gives new entrants and advantage many did not have in previous years.

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He asked the audience how many were entrepreneurs and a significant number of hands went up. “How many of you are on AWS? (Amazon’s cloud service) he asked. About 80 percent raised their hands.

They must “Think globally,” however if they are looking for hypergrowth. There are 3.5 billion net users globally but only 325 million in the United States, he noted.

New digital players taking the lead

Another big factor is the explosive growth of data acquisition now powering data-driven software and services, he said.

New digital players are taking the lead in the economy, he pointed out. “It is a changing of the guard. In the past, old school industries dominated the stock exchange. Oil, telecom. Now, the top five are Ap0ple, Google, Facebook and other digital tech companies.”

“It’s not just a transfer of value,” either, he added. “The top 5 digital companies added $1 trillion to the market cap in the last 15 years.”

Everything is accelerated now. In the past, it took 90 years for a company to mature into a top five firm. Now the average is 26 years. In the past, he said, “Most founders never saw it happen. Now, every founder of a top five company is still there in some function except Steve Jobs.”

That global market also means new firms have to navigate and understand global competition. Three Chinese companies are among the top 20, he said. And entrepreneurs approaching venture capitalists need to know who their global competitors are if they want to get funded, he said.

He also noted the trend of non-technology companies responding to the digital era. “There has been an uptick in merger and acquisition (M&A) activity into software and tech by these companies.”

Notably, Walmart made a $3.3 billion investment in Jet.com (one of the fastest growing ecommerce sites in the U.S.), and said, “It’s hard to overestimate the significance of Walmart doing that.”

IPO window still open

Because lots of traditional companies do not have the culture and infrastructure to change quickly, “They’re doing it through acquisitions instead,” Estevez said. Acquisitions totaled $240 billion last year and that figure is rising every year, all of which is good news for start up digital tech firms.

The IPO window is also still open for “Durable companies,” although 2016 was not a particularly good year. “A lot of deals in the pipeline were taken out,” he said. But those with market opportunities and sustainable business models can still launch successful IPOs.

The rule is they need to penetrate a large market and sustain business with annual revenue growth of 50 percent.

In terms of funding opportunities, “There is a lot of money out there,” he said. A slide noted that seed investing is very active, Series A, active, Series B-C, very selective, and late stage, selective.

The down side: four of five seed and Series A companies “Just don’t work.”

By the time a company gets to the Series B stage, investors want to know if you can get to $100 million in revenue or 100 million active users.

It is competitive in every stage, though. Bull City Venture Partners, host of the event, makes an investment in one of every 900 pitches, Estevez disclosed.

Also, of 41,000 companies funded since 2000, only 440 had $100 million exits. Of those, only 66 achieved much coveted “unicorn” status and achieved a $1 billion or more exit.