Venture capital firms struggle to raise money in the first quarter, report finds

Fewer venture capital firms raised money from their financial backers during the first quarter of the year than during any quarter in nearly a decade, according to a recent report, a sign that the industry continues to shrink years after the economic downturn.

That consolidation could have implications for the broader economy. If there are fewer venture firms with fewer dollars in their coffers, that means less money to invest in the promising start-ups that are often touted as creating new jobs.

“A number of [venture] firms in the industry need to raise capital,” said John Taylor, head of research for the National Venture Capital Association. “They’ve invested what they raised last time around, so with fundraising slow, a lot of these venture firms are not going to be able to invest in new companies tomorrow or next week or next month.”

A total of 35 venture capital firms nationwide raised money from limited partners, such as pension funds or endowments, during the first quarter of 2013. That’s the lowest number on record since the third quarter of 2003.

Those firms collected a total of $4.05 billion in the first quarter, a 13.8 percent decline compared to the $4.7 billion raised during the same quarter last year.

The figures were released Monday in a quarterly report produced by NVCA and Thomson Reuters.

The difficult fundraising environment is due in part to the fact that the economic downturn made it difficult for venture-backed companies to go public. As a result, venture capital firms weren’t able to cash out of those investments.

“As these companies mature and they’re sold or they go public, then the [limited partners] are paid their pro-rata share,” Taylor said. “Not only does the venture firm then have a track record [of success] it can point to, but it has provided distributions that the investors can use to reinvest in the industry.”

District-based NaviMed Capital raised the largest new fund for the quarter, $44.8 million, according to the report. Managing director Bijan Salehizadeh said the fund will be used to invest in late-stage health care companies.

Salehizadeh said the returns provided by the venture capital industry over the last decade have been “disappointing” to financiers when compared against the highflying returns reaped before the dot-com bust in the early 2000s.

Limited partners “have been scratching their heads for the last decade and asking, ‘How come I’m not seeing those returns I saw in the late ’90s?’” he said.

But a lack of money for venture capital firms doesn’t mean there will be fewer entrepreneurs knocking at their doors.

“Folks wanting the entrepreneurial experience are starting to come out and create their own companies around newer technology,” Taylor said. Venture firms “are seeing some of the highest quality deals they’ve ever seen, meaning investment opportunities. Now the trick is raising the money that’s necessary to fund them all.”

But those entrepreneurs have an expanding portfolio of ways to raise money . One of the latest additions, crowdfunding, has grown in popularity as more Web sites crop up to connect entrepreneurs with individuals who invest small amounts of money.

In 2012, $2.7 billion was raised on crowdfunding Web sites worldwide for more than 1.1 million projects, business ventures and charitable causes, including $1.6 billion in North America, according to a report released Monday by Massolution, a research and advisory firm that tracks crowdfunding.

The global figure marks an 81 percent increase compared to 2011, and the firm estimates a similar increase for 2013. The data was compiled based on responses from 222 active crowdfunding platforms, about a third of the estimated total, said research director Kevin Berg Kartaszewicz-Grell.

“The funding volumes are mainly driven by people becoming more aware” of crowdfunding, Kartaszewicz-Grell said. “This is a supply-driven growth. We’re starting to see more and more crowdfunders basically.”

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.
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