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Venture funding chases tried and true

Aug 09, 20043 mins
Venture CapitalWi-Fi

According to a special slice of the quarterly MoneyTree Survey created for Network World, investors poured $2.6 billion into network-related companies during the second quarter, up from $2.5 billion during the first quarter.

In deciding where to put their money these days, venture capitalists appear to have given up looking for the “new, new thing,” at least temporarily, and instead are investing in companies that are trying to improve existing technologies.

According to a special quarterly MoneyTree Survey created for Network World, investors poured $2.6 billion into network-related companies during the second quarter, up from $2.5 billion during the first quarter. These companies include providers of computer and peripheral products, IT services, network gear and software, as well as semiconductors. The MoneyTree Survey is conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Venture Economics and the National Venture Capital Association.

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Two investments made during the second quarter stood out from the crowd; Force10 Networks raised $75 million, and Mahi Networks attracted $70 million. Yet neither the companies nor the products they develop fall into new categories; 5-year-old Force10 Networks sells Internet switches, and Mahi Networks, also founded in 1999, makes optical network systems.

“That’s pretty mainstream stuff,” says Tracy Lefteroff, global managing partner of Venture Capital & Private Equity Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Most of the network companies that received investments this past quarter are focused on “improving existing technology to make it better, faster, cheaper,” he says.

Despite this focus on established companies, about one-third of second-quarter investments went to early-stage companies, defined as those with a product in the test phase, according to the survey.

Of the 395 networking-related deals signed this quarter, 120 were with early-stage companies. This is roughly on par with first-quarter investments, when 97 of the 360 investments were made in early-stage companies.

Topping early-stage deals for the second quarter were a pair of $15 million investments, one in SiNett and the other in Tzero. Both companies are new and are in the same product category: developing silicon technologies for use in wireless networks and devices.

“We’re seeing a lot of the same types of investments in the IT space. We haven’t really seen any truly disruptive technologies out there,” Lefteroff says.

As investors focus more on companies with tried-and-true technologies and less on the bleeding edge, they are investing and reinvesting in fewer companies, but ones that they see having greater chances for success, says Gary Morgenthaler, general partner with Morgenthaler Ventures, which was one of the leaders in Force10 Networks’ second-quarter investment.

This change of focus is notable from the late ’90s style of investing, when investors scrambled to have at least one company representing every type of new technology in their portfolios, he says.

“When you have 25 or 30 or more competitors, as you did with the metropolitan broadband companies two or three years ago . . . too many companies fight tooth and nail for what business there is, and ultimately no one makes any money,” Morgenthaler says. “Having a narrow range of choice of healthier companies with less competition is, in fact, what the market wants in the long term.”

Dollars deja-vu

Some of the largest investments in network-related companies during the second quarter went to firms working to improve established technologies.
Company Product Investment amount Major investors
Force10 NetworksHigh-speed Internet switches$75 millionWorldview Technology, Meritech Capital, Morgenthaler Ventures, NEA
Mahi NetworksOptical networks $70 million Oak Investment, Rho Ventures, JVP
Spreadtrum Communications Wireless integrated circuits and software$35 millionNEA, Vertex Management, Pacific Venture
CalixFiber-optic platforms$30 millionRedpoint Ventures, Kinetic Ventures