Local investments rise for the first quarter

Washington area companies collected their highest level of venture capital in a year and a half during the first quarter of the year, but don’t celebrate that superlative just yet.

The number is driven largely by a $110 million investment in District-based daily deal purveyor LivingSocial by existing investors as that company looks to overcome a year of layoffs, business closures and a sizeable financial write-down.

If you remove the LivingSocial deal, the remaining investments actually mark the second-lowest sum in any quarter since the depths of the economic recession in 2009.

In total, companies across Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District collected $286.3 million in 30 deals. That’s a 30.3 percent increase over the $219.7 million raised across 45 deals in the first quarter of 2012.

The figures were revealed Friday in a quarterly report published by the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Thomson Reuters supplied the data.

The list that appears in Capital Business excludes firms located outside of D.C. and its surrounding suburbs.

The numbers are an improvement, however, over a dismal fourth quarter in which the threat of the “fiscal cliff” and its impact on the economy caused venture capitalists to slow their pace of investing. Local companies raised just $96.8 million in 36 deals during the fourth quarter.

Brad Phillips, director of emerging company services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the region may have still been recovering from the federal budget showdown during the first quarter. But Phillips sees a reason for optimism.

“Last quarter was a very difficult quarter, but I guess the reason we are so optimistic on the performance of the D.C. market for this quarter is we came up significantly when nationally venture dollars were down,” he said.

Another potential bright spot in last week’s data: 12 of the 30 investments went to early-stage companies, firms that are typically projected to grow and raise more money in the years to come.

Stevensville, Md.- based Vapotherm raised the second-largest sum in the area, collecting $26.4 million to manufacture a device used for respiratory care in hospitals and homes.

XG Health Solutions, based in Columbia, took in $25 million. The newly formed venture between Danville, Penn.-based Geisinger Health System and Oak Investment Partners aims to help health care providers better manage the costs and outcomes of patients’ treatment.

But whether local investments will continue to rise remains to be seen.

The venture capital industry is struggling to raise money from its financiers, known as limited partners. Only 35 venture capital firms raised funds during the first quarter, according to a separate report, the fewest firms to do so in nearly 10 years.

“There’s been a contraction in fundraising, so whether that’s right-sizing or downsizing, we don’t know,” Phillips said. “But VCs are now investing more than they raise. One of the reasons we think fundraising is down is we need to see more activity in the exit market.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries. Steven graduated from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. He resides in the District.
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