Editor’s note: Charles Davidson’s column appears regularly on Mondays in Local Tech Wire. Call this the in-between time.

The tech industry is stuck between what’s happened and what’s going to happen. It’s intermission.

Ask 10 early-stage investors what they’re doing, and nine say the same thing: we’re waiting and seeing, keeping our powder dry, working through problems in the portfolio.

Ask entrepreneurs the same question, and most of them say roughly the same thing: trying to keep on track, husbanding resources, maybe hunting money. Few are expanding.

Mostly, of course, it’s because of the economy, intertwined with a lot of bad investments and business decisions. One popular view holds that investors spent the first half of 2001 doing portfolio triage, took a deep breath over the summer and were primed to get to work after Labor Day. Then Sept. 11 pretty much flushed the whole year.

A lot of people said they were optimistic about money going back to work in early 2002, and the economy starting to recover — and staying recovered in the second quarter. Neither has really happened yet.

In the first quarter of 2002, 11 VC firms based here or with offices here invested in Atlanta companies, but just one of those firms, Cordova Ventures, made more than one such deal, according to data from the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

All told, 20 companies in Georgia raised $132.9 million in venture money in the January-March quarter, say PricewaterhouseCoopers and the NVCA. The 20 companies funded were the fewest in a first quarter since 18 in 1997.

Investments surged a bit in the second quarter — 13 more deals worth some $214 million. A six-month total of 33 deals, $346 million is not bad. (North Carolina drew 28 deals worth $168 million in the same timeframe.)

High tech sector not alone

The broader economy hasn’t cooperated. Like a lot of his cohorts, University of Georgia economist Jeffrey Humphreys had earlier this year expected a lasting economic recovery to begin in this year’s third quarter. However, he now figures that won’t come until the fourth quarter at the earliest. He cautions that even that forecast is clouded by unusually high risks, notably from potential terrorism and more financial scandals.

So for now, intermission drags on. We wait for the lights to dim calling us back into the theater.

Frankly, high tech these days is boring.

Back in 1999, it was anything but. Crazy, maybe. Misguided, certainly, but hardly dull.

It was fun to watch and write about 25-year-olds sketching business plans in a graduate school class or a bar, and convincing supposedly wise investors to hand them $20 million. It was fun to calculate the explosive — and it turned out cruelly fleeting — riches of big stockholders at places like Red Hat Software and iXL Enterprises. It was fun going to rooftop parties and listening to absurd boasts.

Then all the smart aleck 25-year-olds got their comeuppance. Pink slips flew. Everyone knows someone, or some three or four people, who’s been sacked. VCs quit investing. Some of them — Monarch Capital Partners and PtekVentures in Atlanta — quit the business altogether. It was painful, but interesting.

That’s all done; now, we wait.

On the horizon —

There are signs of life. Alan Taetle, partner at Atlanta’s biggest VC firm, Noro-Moseley Partners, has been a glum camper for months. But Taetle says that in late 2001 and early this year, his firm began seeing sturdier business plans. Tom Avery, lead tech investment banker for Raymond James, figures there’s some promise in IT companies that cater to the government.

As always, intriguing technologies loom on the horizon. Nanotechnology, according to people who actually know what it is, holds remarkable potential. It sounds outlandish, but nanotechnology makes possible the development of wires the width of two atoms, and weird gizmos that can assemble an airplane from one piece of metal — no rivets.

What’s more, the long-heralded demise of the desktop PC might be at hand. The Red Herring magazine reports that Internet-enabled cell phones, handheld organizers, and email devices will probably outsell PCs this year for the first time. This can enliven demand for all sorts of software and services. Then, there’s online and wireless security, Web services, all kinds of wireless integration snags that some startup can make a lot of money figuring out. There’s potential aplenty.

But for now, we wait and we watch.