Sunday, May 11, 2008

Is Silicon Valley losing its (Midas) touch ?

Today's San Jose Mercury News had an interesting discussion on the softening economy and its impact on venture capital. This is a question which gets asked periodically and time and again the Valley comes up with yet another winning streak. First it was semiconductors, then the Internet, now in its second incarnation as Web 2.0, and maybe clean technology to come ? So, why the question now ? The Mercury News draws attention to the first quarter 2008 VC funding results and points out that poor returns are forcing a shakeout in the VC industry and money is flowing to the biggest firms. This, of course, is the essence of capitalism :-) Winner takes all.

What is most interesting is the chart they refer to while identifying the trend. They point to the dip in funding in Q1 '08. The chart, short as it is, from 2005 to 2008, has several dips in it already. I dare say that if the chart stretched back to 2000, there would quite severe dips from 2000 to 2003. :-) But, the Valley seems to come back with a bang. So, I would not count Silicon Valley out yet.

However, it is interesting to look at historical trends and see where the money seems to be flowing to. I really like the Money Tree reports. They let you slice and dice the data many different ways. Here you can see that Silicon Valley's lead is not going to be overtaken in the near term :-) The historical trend also does not show any recent sharp drop off, though, of course its not easy to match 1999-2000. :-) Where are the VCs who used to fund interesting projects like WebVan :-) ? It is rather interesing to watch the historical trends for VC funding for various sectors, like semiconductors , or software, or energy, or medical devices and equipment. Its easy to see what's hot and what's not over some period of time.

Naturally, the VCs seem to follow the money where the sectors are concerned :-) But, the regional dominance of Silicon Valley seems tough to beat in the near term. It does not hurt that the dominant VCs to whom the money is flowing, happen to be here either. However, it is true that globalization has had an impact. Many of the Silicon Valley VCs do have extensive operations and investments all over the world. In a sense, they go where the opportunity exists at any point of time, whether it is India, Israel, China, Korea or Vietnam. But, the Silicon Valley influence remains strong.


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