SoftBank’s WeWork bid signals push to let companies stay private

WeWork Cos. co-founder Miguel McKelvey a few years year ago brushed off the idea of an initial public offering, telling a small gathering in Napa Valley that the shared office-space company is “thinking about how to prolong that eventuality to a distant point in the future.”

Enter SoftBank Group Corp. SFTBY, +4.98% which is increasingly poised to help WeWork and numerous other multibillion-dollar startups in Silicon Valley stave off IPOs.

In what would be by far SoftBank’s most ambitious startup investment, the Japanese company is in discussions to take a majority stake in WeWork with a $15 billion to $20 billion investment, people familiar with the talks said this week. Such a massive investment would represent about a quarter of SoftBank’s $92 billion Vision Fund—if it comes entirely from that pool of money—and would roughly double the largest-ever bet on a private, venture-backed company.

The negotiations are continuing and other scenarios are on the table, some of the people said. But if SoftBank were to secure a majority stake through the Vision Fund, the move would almost certainly keep eight-year-old WeWork private for years to come.

An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.

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