Venture capital's quiet 'comeback'

Despite (or maybe because of) ten years of weak returns, "venture capital is making a comeback," insists Stephen Todd Walker, new managing director for investments at multinational investment manager Oppenheimer & Co.'s Philadelphia office (a succesor to the lamented former Philadelphia firm Newbold's.)

Silicon Valley veteran John Doerr "is raising a quarter of a billion dollars to invest in the social media companies," he notes. Conshohocken-based Josh Kopelman's First Round Capital eaerlier this month raised $126 million to invest in new companies, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing (First Round partner Chris Fralic declined to comment.) Ex-executives from Reebok and Schering Plough are forming their own funds.

"It's happening, but quietly," Walker told me. "It's the smart money. It's investors that know what they're doing. There's quite a few of these funds."

Where's the money going? "Groupon, out in Chicago, just got funding" for its social-media retail sites, Walker noted. "Do you know Life Mist? Out in Berwyn? They have an unbelievable firefighting technology... The [chairman], Martyn Greenacre, is on Cephalon's board. Or Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, in the University City Science Center, that fights Alzheimer's." (Corrected)

That's the old sales pitch, no?  Yes, and it's reality, says Walker. His 500-page textbook,Wave Theory For Alternative Investments: Riding The Wave with Hedge Funds, Commodities, and Venture Capital  ,due out this fall from McGraw Hill, traces how venture capital, private equity, commodities and other investments "rise and fall over long periods of time, like waves. "We're in a wave fight now. Again and again."

 I ran that by Robert H. Hunt, the 1997 Episcopal Academy (and Yale) graduate and hedge fund manger-turned-computer code writer who tracks the new private-placement Form D filings (online since last year) on his Web site, www.FormDs.com. "There is a huge amount of deal flow, that we can cofirm," Hunt told me. "But it's too early to say definitely that it's increasing."

Indeed, some investors never stopped doing private deals, says John Scuteri, manager at Veritable LP, a West Chester firm that manages nearly $10 billion for more than 100 wealthy U.S. families.  Veritable raised two funds, totalling nearly $100 million, last week, but "that isn't new" for its clients, he added.