In the beginning, there is new money

The birth of a venture capital project may herald a change in attitudes to new firms

Venture capital might still lack the profile and the outright sexiness of traditional City finance, but the signs are that the situation is changing. Just as the business world is cottoning on to the fact that many successful businesses are not quoted on the stock market, so it is realising that there are many ways of raising funds.

As anyone from 3i will be quick to point out, venture capital has been around and available for some time. But it is definitely more visible now than it was even a few years ago.

An indication of the level of activity, just look at events of recent weeks. Earlier this month, on the very day that the British Venture Capital Association announced that Adrian Lewis is to take over as executive director from Victoria Mudford, Advent International, the global private equity investor, reported that it had lured Bruce Barclay from KPMG Corporate Finance to its London office, as investment director.

With organisations increasingly jostling for a share of the market that is often said to be awash with cash but short of good deals, further bouts of musical chairs must be likely.

The Advent move comes shortly after the organisation, whose recent investments include the privatised rolling stock company Eversholt Leasing and the pan-European optical retail chain Vision Express, announced that it had raised more than $600m (pounds 400m) for a fund that will invest in later-stage businesses around the world.

But if the upper hand of the market is comparatively well-catered for, it is usually argued that start-up companies are starved of cash. The problem is that while the potential returns can be huge, would-be investors are put off by the fact that the failures far outnumber the successes.

However, a fund recently launched by Lucius Cary, founder of the business angel service Venture Capital Report and Seed Capital, suggests that attitudes may be changing. The Oxford Technology Venture Capital Trust has reached its minimum of pounds 2.5m and has extended the date for investment until 17 April.

As its name suggests, the trust will concentrate on early-stage and start- up technology companies in the Oxfordshire area where there are several centres of excellence clustered around the universities, in a similar way as has happened in Cambridge and in Stanford, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States.

In addition to Mr Cary, a well-established investor in start-ups, the directors include the chairman of Celltech, John Jackson, Michael O'Regan, RM's co-founder, and Sir Martin Wood, founder of Oxford Instrumentsn

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