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VC's Search for the Next Big Thing

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted September 17, 2007

Of all places it was the garage where it was born. There, some 60 years ago, college pals Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded the firm that would later bear their name: Hewlett-Packard.

Of course, it might have been Packard-Hewlett, but Dave lost the coin flip.

Working within the cramped quarters of the twelve by eighteen foot one-car shed, the enterprising young engineers toiled away, guided only by their desire to developed useful and innovative products. It was the start of what later became a $126 billion bellwether member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

But for the company that was begun with only $538 in startup money, its digital touchstones such as the pocket calculator and the desktop laser printer weren’t the only contributions to spring from that $45-a-month workshop.

Located on that very spot on 367 Addison Ave in Palo Alto where the garage still stands, there sits a large bronze plaque. On it is this inscription: "Birthplace of Silicon Valley."

And ever since those early days in the valley, the race to find the next big thing has been on. Out of that old garage has sprung the entire digital age.

Not surprisingly, part of that race is now focused on the growth of Web 2.0. In fact, to a large extent, the web’s latest version is picking up where the original left off.

That’s what makes Web 2.0 not only potentially disruptive but seductive, because in its many forms it promises to deliver where the one-way communication of the first version failed.

That’s why venture capitalists and entrepreneurs alike are now looking at various innovations to cash in on this latest big wave in tech.

Web searching, social networking, and online video have all added spice to the scramble for VC attention as some 150 new companies and products will fill the valley this fall in search of exposure and seed capital.

Some of them no doubt will be found at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco later this fall.

But as strong as the Web 2.0 wave has been within the confines of Silicon Valley, new data reveal that the Web 2.0 movement has now gone truly global.

In fact, according to figures from Dow Jones Venture One and Ernst & Young LLP, the number of global deals climbed 14% in the first half of this year.

The global research released today showed that investors directed some $464.2 million into 101 new deals worldwide in the first six months of the year. That was a 7% increase over the same period last year and represented the highest six monthly total on record.

The researchers added that a 14 percent rise in the number of Web 2.0 deals was entirely attributable to the rising interest in the sector outside America–especially in Europe and Israel. US investments were virtually unchanged from the first half of 2006, with $357 million invested in 67 deals.

Other notable trends include:

· Despite seeing a flat first half, the US still dominated the Web 2.0 market, accounting for 66% of all deals worldwide and 77% of venture financing.

· The Bay Area was the busiest region in the US, with 25 deals accounting for $91 million. New England, the New York metropolitan area and Southern California are on pace to set annual records for Web 2.0 deals and investments.

· China posted just nine Web 2.0 deals, accounting for $41 million in investment, down from the $43 million invested in 12 deals during the same time last year.

· The median size of a Web 2.0 deal on a global basis was $4.6 million in the first six months. For US deals, the median size reached $5.2 million in the first half, the highest figure on record.

· The most active investors in Web 2.0 on a worldwide basis so far in 2007 are Sequoia Capital and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

So while the heyday of that dusty old garage has long since passed, the entrepreneurial spirit that Hewlett and Packard brought to that sleepy valley and the world 60 years ago is as strong as ever. The venture capital chasing these deals worldwide only proves it.

That’s why to a large extent the future is where it has always been: in technology. The new web is just a piece of it.

Wishing you happiness, health and wealth,

Steve Christ, Editor