If Voyager Pharmaceuticals, which recently pulled an initial public offering, or mobile content developer Motricity hopes to go public in 2006, a lackluster IPO market is going to have to change.

That’s the consensus of the National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Venture Economics. In their final “Exit Poll” report for 2005 released on Tuesday they reported that only 56 venture-backed companies managed to go public, raising $4.5 billion.

The totals compare to 93 IPOs in 2004 that generated more than $11 billion.

In the fourth quarter of 2005, 17 companies went public, raising $1.6 billion. Of those, 10 were technology companies.

And there is more at play than just a cool stock market.

“For the IPO market to improve, we need relief from certain hurdles associated with the Sarbanes Oxley Act, but we also need an investing public that is bullish on technology,” said Mark Heesen, president of the NVCA. Sarbanes Oxley has imposed more strict financial guidelines on the markets in the wake of a wave of scandals in 2001-2.

“Investors have every reason to have confidence in the venture-backed companies in registration today,” Heesen added. “Most have survived the boom and the bust, which speaks to the soundness of their business models and the strength of their discipline. They have weathered significant difficulties and understand excess and how to avoid it. Once the market begins to accept these organizations and that is reflected in their share prices, emerging companies will consider the IPO path once again.”

Only 16 companies are registered for IPOs to open the year, according to the NVCA and Thomson. That compares to 57 entering 2004.

In a report also released Tuesday, Venture One, a unit of Dow Jones, cited 41 venture-backed IPOs in 2005. Those deals raised $2.24 billion, less than half the nearly $5 billion raised a year earlier.

With the IPO exit ramp often closed, many venture-backed firms have turned to the acquisition means of exiting.

For the year, some 330 acquisitions of venture-backed companies were made at an average value of $91.5 million. That’s up from $83.4 million for 339 deals in 2004. Total value of the acquisitions was put at $14.36 billion, down from $15.4 billion the previous year.

“We have entered a short-term period of stasis, where the mass of those bubble-era companies are finally reaching a level of maturity worthy of a profitable exit,” said Daniel Benkert, senior analyst at Thomson Financial, in a statement. “Considering the uncertain state of the IPO option, the M&A market remains healthy and we are probably seeing that market coming to a plateau, but a reasonably sustainable and very rational one.”

However, Venture One reported different figures — 356 transactions worth $27.33 billion. That is the highest total for a year since 2000, when more than $98 billion was generated in 458 deals at the height of the “dot com” bubble.

“The year 2005 proved to be a strong year for venture-capital backed companies, particularly those in the information technology industry, to exit via an acquisition,” said John Gabbert, managing director of private markets for Dow Jones. “These IT companies represented 221 of the M&As that occurred this year with the total amount paid for them reaching $11.73 billion.

“But venture-backed health-care companies also proved popular with acquiring companies, representing 71 of the year’s acquisitions and $9.42 billion of the total paid — the largest aggregate amount paid for acquired health-care companies since at least 1998,” he added.

In the fourth quarter, the NCVA and Thomson reported that software acquisitions dominated with 24. Internet-specific deals accounted for 20, life sciences for 15. For the year, software firms produced 109 deals, Internet companies 76 deals and life sciences 58.