By Michael Liedtke
The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO - Still hurting from the dot-com bust, shellshocked venture capitalists in 2002 curtailed their fund raising for future investments to a 21-year low, according to a report.
While 108 venture capital funds raised a total of $6.9 billion during 2002, another 26 funds refunded $5 billion to investors, according to data compiled by Thomson Venture Economics for the National Venture Capital Association.
The net fund-raising total of $1.9 billion represented the smallest inflow of venture capital since $1.6 billion flowed into the industry in 1981.
The $1.9 billion that trickled into the venture capital industry last year represented a 95 percent drop from the $40.7 billion raised in 2001.
Monday's figures provided another sobering reminder of how far venture capitalists have fallen in just a few years.
As investors hungrily poured money into Internet startups promising to change the world, venture capitalists feasted on huge returns and busily set the table for even more riches.
In 2000, venture capitalists raised $106.8 billion from their limited partners, consisting primarily of institutional investors such as pension funds and university endowments.
The high-tech bust of the past 21/2 years has cast a pall over a venture capital industry trying to cope with an unprecedented streak of losses.
"We are really at a standstill," said Martin Pichinson, chief executive for Sherwood Partners, a firm that helps venture capitalists save struggling startups. "I don't think you are going to see much money coming into the industry for three or four years."
With such dim prospects, venture capitalists have had little reason to raise money, particularly since the industry is sitting on an estimated $80 billion in funds left over from the boom days.
Meanwhile, wary institutional investors are less inclined to invest in risky venture capital funds. In some cases, investors are demanding refunds, prompting the venture capital industry to return about 73 cents for every dollar raised in 2002.
The refunds continued in the fourth quarter, according to Monday's report. Venture capitalists returned more than $1 billion during the three months ended Dec. 31, reducing the net total raised during the fourth quarter to $215 million, the study found.
In some instances, venture capitalists are making refunds because their firms have shrunk and they no longer have the resources to manage as much money, said National Venture Capital Association vice president Jeanne Metzger.
With so many of their previous startups still struggling, venture capitalists also are spending more time trying to salvage their previous investments.
By some estimates, more than 10,000 startups launched during the dot-com bubble are still in business. Most of those will fail during the next few years as the money runs out, Pichinson predicted. "We haven't even seen the devil's eye yet."
On The Net:
National Venture Capital Association: http://www.nvca.org
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