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Venture Capitalists Find Nowhere to Fund

There's good news and bad news on the venture capital front.

The good news was that New Enterprise Associates, a 28-year veteran of the venture capital industry and a backer of companies such as 3Com (COMS), Juniper Networks (JNPR) and Salesforce.com (CRM), has raised a $2.5 billion fund -- the second-largest fund in U.S. venture capital history.

The bad news is that New Enterprise, which still owns about a one-fifth stake of Vonage (VG) after that company's dismal IPO, has raised this $2.5 billion in a market that for years has provided VC funds with few golden exit opportunities.

With more than 40 partners in Menlo Park, Calif., Reston, Va., and Baltimore, New Enterprise has one of the best track records in venture capital. NEA tends to raise large amounts of money because, unlike firms specializing in only seed or early-round investments, it often makes substantial investments as a company is ready to be acquired or go public. About 150 NEA-backed companies have gone public, and 200 have been acquired or merged.

But as Vonage has shown -- its stock is down 56% since its May offering -- even the most respected venture shops are having a hard time cashing in on their investments. The 29.1 million shares that Vonage's prospectus said NEA owned at the time of the offering were worth $496 million then; they have now dwindled to $216 million.

And yet New Enterprise is having no problem raising money to shepherd start-ups into an IPO market that seems to have little appetite for them. Nor is it alone. In June, Oak Investment Partners reportedly raised a $2.56 billion fund with a track record that wasn't quite as strong as NEA's.

Last week, the National Venture Capital Association said that the total amount raised in venture-backed IPOs and merger/acquisitions was $11.2 billion -- above the $10.6 billion raised in the first half of 2005. Only $2.5 billion of that, or less than a quarter of the total, was raised in the IPO market.

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