PINEHURST, N.C. — Buoyed by an improving economy and recent growth in venture funding, entrepreneurs, investors and hangers-on were for the most part smiling and looking for deals at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s annual venture conference.
Twenty-seven North Carolina-based companies made formal and informal presentations to more than 225 investors during the two-day event at the posh Carolina Hotel. A crowd topping 700 people in all turned out to see the latest in emerging technology and to hear a wide variety of speakers talk about an improving climate for emerging companies and investment.
At least one firm, ZinkKat of Cary which has developed a mobile entertainment device, expects to close on new financing within 30 days, according to co-founder Trey Weaver. ZinkKat’s exhibit space drew a constant parade of VCs each day. ZinkKat is looking to raise $900,000 to complete a $1 million second round of financing.
And Qualyst, a drug testing firm based in Raleigh that presented at the Venture 2005 conference, disclosed Wednesday that it had closed on an oversubscribed B round of $2.75 million.
“I have been generally impressed,” said Jeff Barber of PricewaterhouseCoopers who tracks the venture market quite closely. “Everybody is upbeat and very optimistic. This shows we are really leaving behind the bust of the ‘dot com’ bubble.
“There is a lot of money in the system, and the VCs have a lot of money,” he added. “They need to put it to work.”
Dow Jones VentureOne reported Wednesday that venture funds raised $4.26 billion alone in the first quarter of this year. That’s a 69 percent jump from one year ago.
In 2005, venture funds raised $25.2 billion, the highest total since 2001, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers figures.
So far in 2006, more than 10 VC investments have been made in Research Triangle Park-area companies alone with the deals total more than $110 million. The largest deal so far was the $40 million recently raised by Durham-based Motricity, a provider of mobile content and applications. Across the Southeast, the number of deals declined in the first quarter, but nationally $5.6 billion was invested, according to PWC and its partners Thomson Financial and the National Venture Capital Association. That figure was 12 percent higher than the same quarter in 2005.
John Cambier, a VC with the firm NC IDEA, said that investors have good targets at which to aim.
“This was a strong batch of companies this year,” Cambier said of the presenting firms. “The quality is reflective of the general upturn in the momentum. We have really come back in the last 12 to 18 months.”
NC IDEA has been among the busiest VC firms. Among the presenting firms was Visitar, a provider of customer care solutions, and NC IDEA is among its investors. NC IDEA also made its largest investment to date in Intervolve, a Raleigh-based software developer. And Cambier said he expected to continue working at a fast pace.
“We have been deep in talks with one of the (presenting) companies for some time,” he said.
While no one was inclined to compare the atmosphere of the conference to the frantic “business plan on a napkin” funding days of 1998-2000, several attendees did point out that the quality and range of the presenting firms indicated an upturn in new technology and ideas.
“These appear to be better companies than we have seen in the last few years,” Barber said. “After the bust, there was a drawback from investors and from entrepreneurs, too, who decided it was safer to stay with existing companies.”
Barber also said he expected a number of privately held Triangle firms to cash in on initial public offerings with the stock markets at six-year highs.
“We have 10 companies in RTP right now that could public in the next 24 months,” he said.