Italian startups financed by venture capitalists (VCs) experience a faster growth in size and become more innovative compared with other startups. VC-backed firms also show a much larger increase in equity and a reduction in their leverage. This evidence is obtained by comparing a representative sample of firms financed by private VCs in the period 2004-2014 with a sample of firms rejected by VC at the very last stage of the screening process or in the due diligence phase. These firms narrowly lost the contest and before VC financing have very similar observable and unobservable characteristics to the VC-backed firms; self-selection is specifically taken into account. The effects on firms' size and innovation are not exclusively explained by equity financing. The results hold when we restrict the comparison to firms in the control group that also increase their equity from investors other than VCs: this suggests that VC effects can also be linked to their managerial expertise and network connection. Finally, the results are exclusively driven by independent VC investors compared with captive VCs.