Survey Shows Venture Capital Fever

Monday, May 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Venture capital isn't just for maverick financiers anymore.

In the latest display of corporate clout in the venture capital arena, a division of Chase Manhattan Bank invested the most money in entrepreneurial companies during the first three months of this year. New York-based Chase Capital's venture capital investments totaled $289 million during the three-month period ended March 31, according to PricewaterhouseCooper's quarterly ``Money Tree'' survey, scheduled to be released today.

Chase Capital spread the seed money among 45 different investments, primarily in companies developing technology for the Internet, said David Britts, a general partner for the firm. ``The earlier we can get involved in a company, the better,'' said Britts, who works in Chase Capital's Mountain View, Calif. office.

The venture capital arms of two other big U.S. banks, Wells Fargo and BancBoston Capital Ventures, also ranked among the 10 most active investors identified in the survey. Norwest Equity Partners, part of Wells Fargo, invested $119 million during the quarter and BancBoston placed $115 million, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

``I think big banks and companies are here to stay,'' said Tracy Lefteroff, a PriceWaterhouseCoopers' managing partner specializing in venture capital.

Banks and corporations are forming venture capital divisions because of the huge payoffs generated in recent years by Internet startups after they sold their stock in initial public offerings.

Established technology giants such as Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. also are providing venture capital to startups.

The allure of a windfall isn't the only draw for corporate America. Lefteroff said many major companies have realized that funding technology startups can give them the inside track on new innovations developed by entrepreneurs

Stewart Alsop, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates in Menlo Park, said traditional venture capitalists are even facing competition from entrepreneurs that made a killing in the stock market on their other businesses.

The proliferation of venture capitalists is making it easier for startups touting new ideas to raise money.

``I think we are going through a real renaissance period in technology and entrepreneurialism,'' Alsop said. ``A guy who drew up a good idea on a napkin on a coffee table could maybe get $1 million or $2 million in venture capital a couple years ago. Now, that guy with the napkin is getting $4 million or $5 million.''

New Enterprise invested $186 million in the first quarter and isn't pulling back, despite the choppiness in the stock market since March 31. ``We feel very confident and are continuing our pace of investment,'' Alsop said.

The PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey also found that venture capital is increasingly finding its way in regions outside the country's technological hubs in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Boston and New York.

For instance, venture capital investment in the Midwest totaled $982 million in the first quarter, up 69 percent from 1999's final quarter. The Silicon Valley remained the nation's entrepreneurial hotbed with $6.1 billion in venture capital investments, a 7 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 1999.