Venture capitalists’ confidence is up — way up — at least according to a survey released midnight Thursday.
The Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Confidence Index measures the confidence level of venture capitalists on a quarterly basis regarding the venture environment in the San Francisco Bay Area over the next six to 18 months. The first-quarter measurement shows VC confidence is up, following a drop that lasted the past three quarters of 2011. The report was compiled by University of San Francisco Professor Mark Cannice and sponsored by the international law firm Greenberg Traurig.
For the first quarter of 2012, the report rates VC confidence at 3.79 out of 5 — a sizable jump from the 3.27 rating the previous quarter. Strong performance in the IPO market for venture-backed tech firms has contributed to the rise in confidence, according to the survey. With recent high-value IPOs such as Zynga and the planned Facebook IPO, VCs see a better chance of a strong return on their investments.
New, simultaneous developments in cloud computing, mobile and social media and security technology are also fueling the rise in confidence among venture capitalists, according to Bob Ackerman of Allegis Capital. In the report, Ackerman is quoted as saying, “In the future, we will look back on this period of time as one of the Golden Ages of Innovation.”
But not everyone shares this rosy outlook for venture capitalists in the coming months and years. I reached out to Washington Post columnist and Silicon Valley veteran Vivek Wadhwa for his take on the upswing in VC confidence.
In an e-mail Wednesday night, Wadhwa writes:
First, this isn’t very encouraging for VCs because the confidence level isn’t even back to the 2004 level, which was after the big tech bust of 2000.
Second, the venture capital system is in disarray because VCs aren’t central to innovation any more. As recently as the ’90s, it would cost millions of dollars to build a software company and take years. Then, companies would go through the slow process of building a market base, revenue streams and look to go public. Today, 2 kids in their dorm room can build Instagram. It doesn’t cost much to build Web technologies. So, the Angels who provide small amounts of funding (as little as $25,000) are in the catbird seat.
Venture capital makes sense for companies that need millions of dollars to scale (particularly in industries such as enterprise software and biotech). But the most promising companies, such as Instagram among others, are acquired by bigger companies such as Google and Facebook long before they get on the IPO path.
During the last tech boom, VCs were the kings and kingmakers. To be a VC gave you big bragging rights in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs used to seek them out so they could pitch their plans. Now, the tables have turned. VCs desperately look for the next Facebook or Instagram, forcing them to schmooze young entrepreneurs.
Given that you can start a tech company and build a technology product for as little as $50K, entrepreneurs often turn to their friends and relatives for financing. They hang out in incubators and go without salary. Some go to places such as Chile — where the government gives them the seed capital and office space.
The index addresses the continued development of cross-border collaborations, particularly between Silicon Valley and Russia, as a source of growing confidence among VCs. As The Post’s Dominic Basulto wrote of Moscow’s new high-tech hub, Skolkovo, in October, “If the rest of Russia tends to stifle innovation and creativity, Skolkovo promises to be the exception — a place where it is acceptable to fail, and where it may be possible to make it big.”
But Cannice’s report highlights other concerns as well: A “lag” in the life science sector and concerns over regulatory policy, macroeconomic conditions and the availability of capital were all raised.
And, of course, the presidential election provided grounds for some continued uncertainty. A venture capitalist quoted anonymously in the report even mentioned Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s tax returns as the catalyst for the threat against Carried Interest.
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