Done dabbling in VC

Contact: Brenon Daly

During the tech recession at the beginning of this decade, many of the venture efforts started by both corporations and investment banks ground to a halt and quietly went away. In the current downturn, it’s the venture efforts from the buyout shops that seem to be vanishing. Over the past year, marquee PE firms The Carlyle Group and 3i have both shuttered their VC investment programs. On Wednesday, Jafco Ventures announced that it had picked up former Carlyle venture capitalists Nick Sturiale and Jeb Miller.

The pair had only recently moved over to Carlyle to help accelerate its planned push into VC. Washington, D.C.-based Carlyle had raised some $1.4bn in three US funds, dating back to 1997. The funds not only invested in early-stage ventures, but also financed expansion-stage growth companies and smaller buyouts. The move comes after UK-based 3i stopped its early-stage investments, and the head of US tech investments, Sandy Miller, joined late-stage venture firm Institutional Venture Partners.

The fact that some ‘merchants of debt’ are done dabbling in venture capital is understandable given the pressing problems in their core business of taking companies private. With the credit market largely closed and the IPO window firmly shut, PE shops have virtually no chance to book any gains. In fact, few – if any – LBO firms are talking about gains in their current portfolio. The general business slump, exacerbated by the heavy debt loads of many of these companies, has already driven a few into bankruptcy. This has been particularly true of the retail companies taken private in the past few years. But the Chapter 11 contagion is likely to spread to other sectors – including technology.