Triangle startups raised $53.6 million in venture capital funding in the third quarter, the area’s best showing in more than a year but still middling by historical standards.
The third quarter marked the second consecutive quarter that funding rose and the amount raised is the most so far this year, well above the $29.2 million raised in the first two quarters combined, according to new data being released Friday. A total of 10 Triangle companies raised money in the third quarter, versus six in the second quarter.
Still, none of the quarters this year has come anywhere near the $108.9 million raised in the second quarter of last year. In fact, the $82.8 million raised so far this year is by far the lowest since The News & Observer began reporting the Triangle’s quarterly numbers in 1999. The data come from accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data supplied by Thomson Reuters.
“It’s very nice to see a bit of a rebound,” said Laura Robinette, a partner in PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Raleigh office. “It’s actually higher than the third quarter of last year. That put a smile on my face.”
But Robinette added that there remains much room for improvement.
“This is a clear indication – the third quarter in a row – that investments are down” compared to historic levels, she said. The quarterly record for the Triangle is $324.8 million, set in the fourth quarter of 2007.
Technology startups rely on venture capital funding to develop new products or ramp up their operations. The venture capital firms receive an ownership stake in the privately held businesses in exchange for their investment.
The uptick in local venture capital funding ran counter to the national trend. Overall funding fell 11 percent in the third quarter compared to the second quarter, while the number of companies raising money fell 5 percent.
Those close to the startup scene have cited several factors in the recent downturn in local venture capital funding.
The number of venture capital firms with funds to invest in new ventures has declined since the recession hit. And it’s an especially difficult fundraising environment for biotechnology and medical device companies, which are a Triangle mainstay. The amount of money raised by life sciences companies nationwide is down 19 percent over the first three quarters of this year.
In addition, Triangle angel investors – wealthy individuals who plow money into startups – have been stepping up their investment activity, but their efforts don’t show up in the venture capital survey unless they invest alongside venture capital firms.
“I think, to get a true picture of what is going on, you have to go outside the VC trends,” Robinette said.
Ben Brooks, a partner with Southern Capitol Ventures in Raleigh, which focuses on information technology investments, said he’s seeing fewer top-drawer startups in recent years.
“We have had to work a lot harder to find those high-quality investments,” Brooks said. “Everything we see right now are follow-on ideas to existing technologies, the niche plays, as opposed to revolutionary plays. We see a lot of those – more efficient ways to do this or that, but not ideas that wow you.”
Brooks speculates that the struggling economy is an impediment to a lot of would-be entrepreneurs.
“You’re not going to see folks leave a Red Hat or leave a SAS,” Brooks said. “The environment is too uncertain to go out on your own.”
Two Triangle companies were listed as raising at least $10 million in the third quarter: drug-development company Argos Therapeutics, whose $14.4 million haul was the second phase of $25 million in funding that the company announced in April; and Lumena Pharmaceuticals, which clocked in with $10 million.
Lumena, which is developing a diabetes treatment, hasn’t announced new funding recently. Lumena CEO Mike Grey couldn’t be reached for comment.
Brendan Morrissey, the CEO of advertising firm Netsertive, which raised $7.3 million in the third quarter, said the first order of business when he set out to attract financing was to identify venture capital firms that were both willing and able to back a company like his.
“The tougher part is identifying who has and who doesn’t have money – and who is the right fit for the business you’re in,” he said. “And then, of course, you actually have to have a terrific business.”