The Washington area must attract and generate more money for investment in new companies if it is to continue to generate business growth in advanced technology areas, the Greater Washington Board of Trade said yesterday.
The local area lags behind other areas of the nation in the availability of money for investment in new ventures, or "venture capital," according to a board of trade report released at a news conference yesterday.
From 1981 to 1984, 62 local companies received venture capital investments estimated at $93 million, which represents about 1 percent of the formal venture capital investments made nationally, according to a study made for the board of trade by Venture Economics Inc., of Wellesley Hills, Mass.
By contrast, companies in California's Santa Clara County, the "Silicon Valley," received more than 45 percent of the nation's venture capital and Boston received about 14 percent during the same period. California, New England and the New York-New Jersey area together accounted for 75 percent.
"Washington does not have a reputation as a major, national investment area for new technology-based businesses," said the report by the board of trade's task force on venture capital.
The task force surveyed 50 national venture capital firms and 31 local companies on inc. magazine's list of the nation's fastest growing firms.
The task force report acknowledged that federal government grants and contracts have provided an alternative to venture capital as a source of funding during the start-up years of some companies.
The region is home to about 1,200 companies in areas such as telecommunications, computer software, biotechnology and other areas of new technology, or "high-tech," according to the Greater Washington Research Center.
Washington has trouble attracting venture capital for several reasons, including the "significant dependence" of the local economy on the federal government, the lack of internationally renowned research universities, a preponderance of service firms as opposed to product-oriented firms, and "a lack of knowledge about the Washington entrepreneurial community and about new business opportunities," the board of trade report said.
The task force also found "a feeling among business leaders that non-Washington-based banks and venture capitalists are more attuned" to making venture investments "than those in this community."
The report comes at a time of national and local decline in the amount of venture capital investments, a slump in the computer industry and consolidation in biotechnology.
After studying the problem, the board of trade adopted a strategy to encourage more investment in young, local and new technology companies.
"We intend to act as a facilitator to support the continued growth of new and expanding technology-based firms and their need for venture capital in the greater Washington region," said Julia M. Walsh, president of the board of trade and president of Julia M. Walsh & Sons, a division of Tucker Anthony.
The board of trade's strategy includes plans to:
*Use promotional activities to attract the investment interest of national venture capital firms, pension funds and corporate venture groups.
*Conduct venture capital workshops for local financial institutions, entrepreneurs and local firms.
*Help form and recruit major Washington-based venture capital funds.
*Create a supportive environment for new technology firms by working with local financial institutions to develop lending programs, by working with local universities to support entrepreneurial development programs and by encouraging local private and public leaders to buy goods and services from new firms.
The Washington-Baltimore Regional Association, a non-profit business group, has already carried out one of the task force's recommendations by publishing a directory of local financial resources. The 22 largest commercial banks and 23 largest thrift institutions in the Baltimore-Washington Common Market have combined assets of $87 billion, while the 27 largest venture capital firms can provide capital commitments ranging from $10,000 to more than $3 million, according to the directory, which was released yesterday.
The publication profiles the association's member banks and thrifts, and identifies the 27 venture capital firms.