BusinessWeek.com, October 3, 2007, 12:01AM EST :
A closer look at otherwise strong investment growth shows many firms are getting all the drawbacks of a hot market, with few of the benefits. by Sarah Lacy
This is a bad time to be a venture capitalist. Anyone who says different is raising a new fund—or works at one of the few firms having a good year.
Sure, the numbers look great on the surface. The value of deals rose a solid, yet not bubbly, 8% in the second quarter, with investors pumping $7.4 billion into emerging companies, according to Dow Jones VentureOne. And the money is funding some legitimately exciting frontiers, including Web 2.0, which attracted $500 million in the first half. Companies specializing in clean tech got $1.1 billion in the same period.
Initial public offerings are up for the year, too. In the second quarter, venture-backed companies tapped the public markets for $2.73 billion, the most raised in a three-month period since the go-go days of 2000. And researchers expect the current period to be another banner quarter, with a whopping 46 companies looking to file.
IPOs and Acquisitions Tell a Different Story
But a closer look at the numbers reveals some disturbing trends. Consider IPOs. Most of the initial share sales getting done are mainly one-off companies that were founded years ago and have slogged away at building solid businesses for a half-decade or more. This year's biggest hits were MetroPCS (PCS) of Dallas and EMC's (EMC) spin-out of VMware (VMW)—hardly your classic Silicon Valley startups. There's simply no big overall tech movement getting Wall Street revved up, and among entrepreneurs, the feeling is mutual. Sarbanes Oxley and other regulations have made the prospect of going public far less appealing.
The picture looks worse among acquisitions. Sure, the usually sleepy third quarter saw $10 billion come in acquisition proceeds, but that was spread among 90 deals. Companies like TellMe, the voice recognition software company founded in the late 1990s that snagged $800 million from Microsoft (MSFT), are in the minority this year. Far more common is the tech company that plodded along for more than six years, chewing through some $30 million in venture cash to eventually get bought for $50 million or so. Indeed, the median length of time it took companies to get bought was the longest Dow Jones VentureOne has seen since it started measuring the industry 20 years ago. Meanwhile, valuations keep rising, as billions of dollars in VCs’ coffers fight to get in what few great companies are out there.