Venture capital investments dive in the first quarter

The first three months of 2009 were absolutely brutal for venture capital, with clean energy leading the way with a decline of 87 percent compared to the same period in 2008.

Overall, United States venture capital investments fell 61 percent to $3 billion in the first quarter -- the lowest level in 12 years, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

The average venture capital investment also fell from $7.8 million in the first quarter of 2008 to just $5.5 million.

With the IPO market similarly in the toilet, investors are seeing little hope of the short-term windfall that seemed so easy a few years ago. Without a ready and willing stock market to dump speculative investments on, investors are forced to continue feeding start-ups, hoping that they'll generate income at some point in the distant future.

With speculative ventures like clean technology, investors just weren't willing to tie up funds without a visible exit strategy.

Some investors are pointing to the well-received IPO of Rosetta Stone as a sign of thawing in the IPO market that will quickly lead to more aggressive venture capital investing -- but I think it's a mistake to put too much faith in a multi-billion dollar trend developing from a single IPO of a well-established brand.

Rosetta Stone has a product and delivered net income of $13.9 million on revenue of $209 million in 2008 -- a level of success that most IPOs don't have in a more normal market. I'd say that Rosetta Stone is more likely to be an anomaly than a sign of things to come.

Venture capital investments will turn around at some point, and the stimulus package will probably be a large driver of clean energy investment until that happens.

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