When final tally on North Carolina’s venture capital activity in 2001 is announced on Wednesday, all eyes will be on one man – and he’s neither a big-money VC nor a media-darling entrepreneur.

As partner in charge of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Raleigh office, Jeff Barber usually reports the results of the accounting firm’s quarterly MoneyTree Survey of venture financing at an invitation-only breakfast, nabbing the resulting attention from all quarters of the state’s VC and emerging technology industries.

“These numbers are hard to track because you’re talking about private company information,” says Mitch Mumma, general partner at Durham venture firm Intersouth Partners. “We look to the survey to see how local trends mirror those nationwide, whether we’re ahead or behind the curve. It’s a credible, independent source of information.”

Barber, 49, takes all the attention in stride, saying in the plainspoken drawl of his native eastern Kentucky that he’s just doing his job. “We’re just trying to help our clients monitor the venture investing trends across the country,” he says.

The MoneyTree Survey was recently consolidated with a report produced by the National Venture Capital Association to eliminate the confusion multiple reports with slightly different numbers have caused in the industry over the years. Coopers & Lybrand started the quarterly MoneyTree report seven years ago and continued it after its 1998 merger with Price Waterhouse.

Building on youth

Barber has been courting the technology industry even longer. After 11 years at Coopers & Lybrand offices in Lexington, Ky., and New York, he moved to Raleigh in 1988. He saw a lot of people leaving IBM and Glaxo and starting their own firms and tapped into that activity to help the office grow. Tech firms now account for more than a third of the business for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Raleigh, and the office is part of a national network the accounting firm has set up to concentrate on tech business.

His involvement with a lot of young companies brought Barber into contact with the Council for Entrepreneurial Development in the early 1990s. After working on several committees, he was named chairman in 1996 and served a second year in the position when entrepreneur Robbie Hardy decided to spend more time with her Chapel Hill software company and couldn’t take the reins at CED.

Under Barber’s leadership, CED undertook its first major capital campaign, “Future Focus”, and met its $2.25 million goal. Some of the money paid to move the organization to a larger office in Research Triangle Park where it could become what Barber calls “a hub for entrepreneurs” by creating a reference library and hosting gatherings. CED President Monica Doss has praised Barber for his “nerves of steel,” saying he blends the roles of entrepreneur and professional perfectly.

Better times ahead

The MoneyTree breakfasts similarly blend those two crowds, Barber says, giving entrepreneurs a chance to interact with venture capitalists that some would otherwise never get, especially in the currently chilly climate for venture investing.

“Last year was probably the worst we’ve seen in some time,” he says. “It was frustrating for a lot of people because the area had gotten to the point where you had certain expectations of being able to get venture capital behind a good idea, and that just wasn’t happening. Venture companies were more inwardly focused on their portfolio companies and weren’t looking for new deals.”

Barber predicts a better year in 2002, and the national MoneyTree Survey backs up that perspective. The fourth-quarter results show the first increase in venture investing since the Internet bubble burst in early 2000. “We’re starting to show some signs of recovery,” he says.

Mumma, who will provide his perspective on area venture activity during the upcoming MoneyTree breakfast, says Barber’s viewpoint carries a lot of weight in the Triangle among both venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

“He has signed many IPO opinions and has a lot of personal experience with entrepreneurs,” Mumma says. “He’s a real leader in the entrepreneurial community.”

Not a bad review for a guy who had intended to become an architect and only became interested in accounting when he had to take a course in it because some of his design classes at the University of Kentucky were filled.

“I think I’ve been fortunate in the way things have played out,” Barber says.

For more information about the breakfast, call (919) 755-3198 and ask for Laura Troy.