Venture-Backed IPO Tally: Zero

Mark Heesen, president of National Venture Capital Association, said the situation was a
Mark Heesen, president of National Venture Capital Association, said the situation was a "crisis for the start-up community." (By Rick Mainman -- Bloomberg News)
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By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Eight months ago, medical treatment firm Broncus Technologies was ready to sell its stock to the public. The company, which develops treatments for lung diseases, filed the paperwork, talked with major banks and waited for the perfect time to make its debut on the public stock market.

That time never came. The economy turned grim, and the financial markets worsened. So two weeks ago, the firm pulled away from its public offering and is instead searching for more private investment.

"It was clear the market just wasn't going to open up for us in the foreseeable future," said chief executive Cary Cole, who said the Mountain View, Calif., company raised $80 million over the past 10 years. "If things didn't turn around in a very positive way, we just weren't going to go through with it."

For the first time in 30 years, zero venture-backed companies made initial public offerings during the second quarter, according to a report to be released today by the National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Reuters. The drought follows a slow first quarter, when five venture-backed firms went public, and it is a serious downturn from the first half of last year, when 43 companies went public.

Mark Heesen, NVCA president, called the situation a "crisis for the start-up community" and warned that the absence of public offerings would delay the return of investment for venture capitalists, making it more difficult for them to fund other entrepreneurs.

"The more time you have to spend with an existing portfolio company, the less time an investor can spend searching for new opportunities," Heesen said. "Venture-backed companies that successfully enter the public markets represent a critical job-creating engine for the economy, and that engine has completely shut down."

An initial public offering is one major growth strategy for young companies that hope to gain additional funds by selling shares. During the high-flying days of the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, such offerings were common ways for venture-capital-backed start-ups to raise quick cash. But the large amounts of money going to relatively young and untested firms quickly backfired, and the market crashed.

Since then, most young companies have hoped to be acquired by a larger firm rather than take the riskier route of going public, even though entering the public market is generally seen as a more lucrative way for venture capital investors to recoup their funds. The introduction of tougher accounting rules also dissuaded companies from going public.

Poor economic conditions have slowed the rate of mergers and acquisitions, the report shows, as larger companies are forced to reduce spending.

"We will have to allocate our capital more carefully," said Hooks Johnston, general partner of Valhalla Partners in Vienna. "It could force us to cut off funding to weaker companies."

Several of the firm's portfolio companies have delayed their plans to go public by as long as 18 months, he said. "We have to support them longer," Johnston said.

The time it takes for a company to be mature enough for an initial public offering is also growing. It now takes a company about 8.6 years after its first investment to successfully go public, up from four years in 1999, according to the report.

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