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A new report from health startup accelerator Rock Health shows that funders have invested $1.08 billion in digital health startups this year, which already eclipses the $956 million they spent in all of last year.

cash roll

Venture capital support for traditional life sciences companies may be up for debate, but enthusiasm for digital health startups certainly seems to be on the rise.

According to a report out Wednesday from health startup accelerator Rock Health, in the third quarter of this year, VCs invested 70 percent more money in 84 percent more deals than in the same quarter last year.  Those trends are in line with a mid-year funding report released by Rock Health this summer.

The reports say funders have invested $1.08 billion in digital health startups this year, which already eclipses the $956 million they spent in all of last year.  By the third quarter of last year, VCs invested just $626 million in digital health.

The biggest funders of the year, so far, are Aberdare, Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures and New Enterprise Associates. But the report also notes that the field is attracting newcomers – 10 percent are first time health investors, the report said.

The four largest deals this year – which involved Castlight Health, GoHealth, Care.com and Best Doctors – comprise more than 20 percent of the year’s funding and most of the funding rounds were Series A and B, the report said. But interesting startups including Mango Health, pingmd and Meddik have raised smaller seed rounds.

The report comes a week after the Wall Street Journal said that “the health-care industry in general has fallen out of favor with venture capitalists.” While some in the industry say they’ve seen VC interest shift away from biotech and traditional life sciences that require more time and capital, and are subject to more regulation, Rock Health’s report shows that interest in digital health is still strong.

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Article from NYTimes.

“Hedge funds, the golden children of finance, are having a very rough year.

For one, they are not making money the way they used to. Returns for a number of funds, including those of star managers like John A. Paulson, have fallen by as much as half this year. And that poor performance comes just as these investment partnerships are coming under increased regulatory scrutiny.

Yet the money keeps pouring in, even for Mr. Paulson.

This year alone, more than $70 billion in new money has gone to hedge funds, mostly from pensions and endowments. A recent study by the industry tracker Preqin found that 80 percent of investors were mulling new allocations to hedge funds, and 38 percent of investors were planning to add to existing ones.

One bad year for hedge funds can be written off. But most investors rarely enjoy a bounty of returns even over the long run. The average hedge fund investor earned about 6 percent annually from 1980 to 2008 — a hair above the 5.6 percent return they would have made just holding Treasury securities, according to a study published this year in The Journal of Financial Economics.

So why would large investors pay hedge funds billions of dollars in fees over the years for poor returns? The answer highlights the financial problems at the country’s largest pensions.

As waves of workers prepare to retire, pensions find themselves in a race against time. Short of what they need by an estimated $1 trillion, according to the Pew Center on the States, public pensions are seeking outsize returns for their investments to make up the gap. And with interest rates hovering near zero and stock markets gyrating, the pensions and others are increasingly convinced that hedge funds are the only avenue to pursue.

“Even with the short-term ups and downs, at the moment there is not a credible alternative with the same risk profile for pensions,” said Robert F. De Rito, head of financial risk management at APG Asset Management US, one of the largest hedge fund investors in the world.

 

 

 

 

Hedge funds, once on the investing fringes, have become a mainstay for big investors, amassing huge amounts of capital and accumulating more of the risk in the financial system. The impact of this latest gold rush into hedge funds is unclear. Some argue that the hedge fund industry’s exponential growth — it has quadrupled in size over the last 10 years — has depressed returns. Others, meanwhile, wonder whether the bonanza in one of the most lightly regulated corners of the investment universe will have broader, less clear implications.

“I worry that institutions are betting on an asset class that is not well understood,” said William N. Goetzmann, a professor of finance at the Yale School of Management. “We know that the real long-term source of performance is not picking someone good at beating the market, it’s taking risks on meat and potato assets like stocks and bonds.”

The growth has been fueled in part by more sophisticated marketing — most funds now have employees whose job is to manage relationships with investors and to seek out new ones, jobs that were uncommon a decade ago. And there is still a mystique: funds that have had at least one spectacular year have excelled at raising and keeping money.

Despite the appeal of a blowout year, however, performance tends to peter out after investors jump into a hot new fund. Yet even with the lackluster returns of late, many investors have resigned themselves to sticking with hedge funds. The financial crisis taught them that even more important than making money was not losing the money you had.

Reflecting that perspective, hedge funds have started to change how they sell themselves. For decades, funds have marketed themselves as “absolute return” vehicles, meaning that they make money no matter the market conditions. But as more and more money crowds into them, the terminology has started to change. Now, managers and marketers increasingly speak of “relative returns,” or performance that simply beats the market.

“In general, they’re probably not going to have the blowout returns of the ‘80s and ‘90s,” said Francis Frecentese, who oversees hedge fund investments for the private bank at Citigroup. “But hedge funds are still a good relative return for investors and worth having in the portfolio.”

Gauging by the inflows, pensions seem to agree.

This year, major pensions in New Jersey and Texas lifted the cap on hedge fund investing by billions of dollars. The head of New York City’s pension recently said its hedge fund investments could go as high as $4 billion, a roughly tenfold increase from current levels. Illinois added another $450 million to its portfolio last month, which already managed about $1.5 billion in hedge fund investments.

About 60 percent of hedge funds’ total $2 trillion in assets comes from institutions like pensions, a big shift from the early days when hedge funds were the province of ultra-wealthy individuals.

As the investor base has changed, hedge funds themselves have grown into more institutional businesses. The biggest firms have vast marketing, compliance and legal teams. They hire top-notch accounting firms to run audits, and their technology infrastructure rivals that of major banks.

They make money even off mediocre returns. A manager overseeing $10 billion, for instance, earns $200 million in management fees simply for promising to invest the assets. Investment returns of 15 percent, or $1.5 billion, would translate into another $300 million in earnings for the hedge fund.

By contrast, a mutual fund that invests in the shares of large companies charges less than half a percent in management fees, or less than $50 million.

Psychology plays a meaningful role in hedge fund investing. Investors often pile into the hottest funds, even well after their best years are behind them.

This year’s must-have manager is John A. Thaler — despite having closed his fund to new investors last year in the face of a flood of money. While little known outside Wall Street, Mr. Thaler and his stock-picking prowess have been the talk of the hedge fund world. A former star portfolio manager at Shumway Capital Partners, Mr. Thaler developed a reputation early on as an astute analyst of media and technology companies.

His hedge fund, JAT Capital, had done well since its founding in 2007, and this year, as returns climbed to 40 percent amid the market upheaval, investors clamored to gain entry.

Then, last month, two of his biggest holdings, Netflix and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, took a bath. His fund fell by nearly 15 percent in a few short weeks, a reminder that even high-flying managers can quickly fall back to earth.

But few hedge fund managers have risen and fallen so quickly and so publicly as Mr. Paulson, the billionaire founder of the industry giant Paulson & Company.

He made his name after earning billions of dollars in 2007 and 2008 with a prescient bet against the subprime mortgage market. Afterward, investors clamored to get money into the fund, and by the start of 2011 assets had swelled to $38 billion.

This year, Mr. Paulson has lost gobs of money on an incorrect call that the United States economy would recover. One of his major funds was down nearly 50 percent, while others fell more than 30 percent. Investors who poured money into Mr. Paulson’s hedge fund after his subprime bet have given back gains from 2009 and 2010, according to an investor analysis.

But last month, when investors had the opportunity to flee the fund that had suffered the worst losses, most instead chose to stick around. Some even put more money into Mr. Paulson’s funds, despite losing almost half of their holdings this year.”

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Article from SFGate.

“A gleaming array of mirrors tucked behind a Sonoma County winery promises a new wrinkle in renewable energy – solar power without all the waste.

Solar panels convert into electricity just a fraction of the energy the sun throws at them, typically 15 to 20 percent. The rest is wasted as heat.

But the solar array nestled next to the Sonoma Wine Co. captures the heat as well. The winery gets electricity for its lights and bottling machinery as well as hot water – up to 165 degrees – for cleaning barrels.

The array is the brainchild of the Mountain View startup Cogenra Solar. Backed by $10.5 million from clean-tech venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, the year-old company aims to make renewable power more cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Cogenra will own the solar arrays it installs, charging its customers for the electricity and hot water rather than the equipment.

“Practically any location we’ve looked at, we can beat their utility rates,” said Chief Executive Officer Gilad Almogy.

Cogenra claims its arrays produce five times the total energy output of comparably sized traditional solar systems, one reason the company can offer attractive rates. The other reason – Cogenra pieces its arrays together using pre-existing solar equipment rather than inventing all its own gear from scratch.

Almogy “said to me, ‘Derek, you could go down to the hardware store and get most of this stuff yourself,’ ” said Derek Benham, who owns the winery in the small town of Graton. “It looks kind of Avatar-like, but you take a close look at it and think, ‘Hey, this looks like siding.’ ”

Benham and Almogy unveiled the system last week at an event packed with curious representatives from other wine-makers such as Bogle Vineyards and Kendall-Jackson. The event also drew former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an adviser to Khosla Ventures, who praised the technology’s potential for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and fighting global warming. Cogenra arrays cut the amount of natural gas customers burn to heat water, in addition to replacing electricity from fossil-fuel power plants.

“We won’t win this unless business is our ally,” Blair told the crowd. “What is really important right now is that instead of losing interest in this issue or pushing it back, we need to pay attention.”

Cogenra’s arrays combine elements of other, older forms of solar power.

A curved trough of mirrors, similar to those used in large-scale solar power plants, focuses sunlight on a narrow strip of common solar cells. Behind the cells runs a tube filled with a liquid chemical. The liquid absorbs heat from the solar cells and transfers that heat to water. The trough, mounted on a beam about 7 feet off the ground, pivots to track the sun across the sky.”

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Here is a good Techcrunch article about Foursquare.

“A months long fundraising process for Foursquare is in its last stages, we’ve heard from multiple sources, and Andreessen Horowitz looks to be preparing to check-in to Foursquare to take an investor badge.

The company has delayed committing to new venture capital as they considered buyout offers – negotiations went deep with both Yahoo and Facebook, and possibly Microsoft. The Yahoo discussions ended weeks ago, and Facebook passed on an acquisition earlier this week, we’ve heard.

That means the company is raising that big new round of financing. And a slew of venture capitalists, including Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Spark Capital and First Round Capital were all rumored to competing heavily for inclusion despite the $80 million or so valuation, say our sources.

Andreessen Horowitz, despite rumors that they were pulling out of discussions with the company weeks ago over concerns that too much information was leaking to the press, is the last venture capitalist standing. The fact that founding partner Marc Andreessen is on the board of directors of Facebook, a key partner or competitor of Foursquare, may be the factor that put them over the top.

Existing investors OATV and Union Square Ventures will also participate heavily in the new round, we’ve heard. In the meantime they’ve likely already loaned additional capital to the company.”

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Here is a good read from Yahoo.

“Jeffrey Bussgang likes crazy entrepreneurs. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and Sitrris Pharmaceuticals’ Dr. Christoph Westphal all share what Bussgang, a partner with Boston-based Flybridge Capital Partners, calls paranoid optimism. He defines it as an almost-arrogant belief in a world-changing idea mixed with a healthy fear of competitors. “You rarely see those two words together, which is why I like them,” Bussgang says. “They really distill the essence of the great entrepreneurs.”

He should know. Before he was a venture capitalist, Bussgang co-founded Upromise, now part of Sallie Mae and the nation’s largest private source of college funding contributions. In his new book, Mastering the VC Game, Bussgang offers a blueprint for entrepreneurs hoping to get funded: Be a paranoid optimist.

But even that may not be enough, given the state of today’s venture capital market. Total VC dollars invested fell 39 percent between the first quarter of 2008, before the recession began, and the first three months of 2010, according to data supplied by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

VC firms have gone tight-fisted, and limited partners–the investors who supply capital to private equity funds–are skittish, afraid of being burned again after suffering a decade of negative returns. Mix in a contentious debate over the taxability of profits derived from successful venture capital investments, otherwise known as carried interest, and entrepreneurs are being forced to clear hurdles not seen since the 1980s, says Roger Novak, a partner with Novak Biddle Venture Partners in Bethesda, Md. “I think we’re going back to the old days, and better companies are going to be born.”

In other words, venture capitalists are being more discerning about where and with whom they invest. Here are three ways to make sure your business passes the sniff test.

  1. Create the Market
    Much of that time was spent planning and talking with prospects; the founders didn’t want to build a solution before defining the problem, which they believed was big. Advertising affiliate networks were losing revenue each time a customer clicked on a digital ad but completed the transaction by phone. RingRevenue would fill the gap with technology, but only if affiliates could agree on the concept they had in mind.

    “Before we were going to commit all of our time, career, dollars and resources to it, it was important to [know] enough about the customers and their needs that we could feel good that we were getting it right the first time,” Spievak says.

    Each meeting brought changes to the design. But by asking prospective customers for feedback and then building to spec, RingRevenue created its own market. “We wanted to make sure that we understood the formula for growth, that we had satisfied customers and a scalable model,” Spievak says. Investors were impressed. RingRevenue closed a $3.5 million initial round of venture capital funding in June of 2009.

  2. Get a Big Idea
    If there’s a model for the sort of crazy entrepreneurs Bussgang admires, it might be the team at PhoneHalo. The company’s wireless technology plugs into a smartphone, making it a hub for preventing computers, iPads and other networked equipment from getting lost or left behind. But the vision for what it could be is much bigger.

    “Imagine that everything that’s valuable to you in your life is always connected to the network. And imagine down the road if every item in your refrigerator was somehow talking to the network so when you were low on milk, if it goes through PhoneHalo’s infrastructure, it can update a to-do list right as you’re in the grocery store, all on the fly,” says CEO Jacques Habra. Crazy? Sure, but according to Bussgang, the ability to press forth in the face of naysayers is what makes a great entrepreneur.

    PhoneHalo was still shopping for venture capital funding as of this writing. And yet Habra and co-founders Christian Smith and Chris Herbert are confident they’ll eventually find the right VC partner.

    “Since this is our baby, it’s easy to feel rejected and bruised by a no,” Habra says. “In reality, that time with an investor is hugely valuable: If you ask the right questions and apply the feedback to your business unemotionally, you make the company that much more investable and likely to succeed.”

  3. Work Your Network
    Finally, the venture capitalist who doesn’t know you isn’t likely to partner with you. “They see so many referred-in deals that it just doesn’t make sense for them to spend much time on the ones that come in over the transom,” says Spievak.

    He and his team were approached by potential venture capital investors in late 2008, during the height of a global financial meltdown, in part because backers of his earlier venture, publicly traded CallWave, earned back 30 times their investment following a 2004 public offering.”

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Here is some intriguing new opportunities for iPad developers.

“Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers said Wednesday that it is doubling a fund that focuses on the iPhone and iPod Touch to $200 million to include new applications for the upcoming iPad.

Partner John Doerr said Kleiner Perkins has exhausted its original $100 million iFund that it began two years ago. Now with the iPad coming, he said the application boom that began on the iPhone will extend into a new wave of iPad apps that transforms the way people interact with computers.

“We will move beyond spread sheets, word processors and Web sites limited by a browser to an interactive, connected world with incredible speed and fluidity,” Doerr said during a press event near its headquarters.

The public support from a respected venture capital firm lends more momentum to the launch of the iPad this Saturday and gives developers more incentive to develop dedicated iPad apps. The fund could help seed a new generation of iPad app companies that help define the device much the way early iFund recipients led the way for the iPhone.

The original iFund supported 14 companies, including the well-known Ngmoco, Pinger, Shazam and Booyah. The companies have collectively made more than $100 million and accounted for more than 100 million downloads.

Doerr said those companies have more than 20 iPad specific apps in the works with at least 11 to be released Saturday when the iPad goes on sale.

Many of the iFund companies have had a chance to work with the iPad. Some executives on Wednesday talked about how the device will create more engaging and longer experiences that require more thought and can lead to more profitable and memorable apps.

“We’re really trying to take advantage of the added real estate, and we’re trying to leverage the way users want to use the device,” said Neil Young, CEO and founder of gaming company Ngmoco, which is bringing three new games to the iPad. “The iPad has the opportunity to revolutionize gaming in the home in the same way the iPhone and iPod Touch revolutionized gaming on the go.”

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Here is a good commentary from Seattle Times.

“Don’t be surprised if you see a few limos driving slowly down Elliott Avenue, doing a little window shopping.

Big tech companies are expected to be on the prowl again for acquisitions this year, and the Elliott corridor along Seattle’s waterfront is lined with prime targets.

Actually, companies around the region could be acquired in the coming year as bigger tech companies feel comfortable that the recovery has taken hold and begin spending the cash they’ve been accumulating.

“Now that the equity market is back up they’re jumping in and catching up,” said Nat Burgess, president of Corum Group, a Bothell firm that advises companies on mergers and acquisitions. “If you look out for the next six to nine months, it’s going to be fantastic in terms of deal volumes, in terms of valuations.”

Venture capitalist Matt McIlwain at Madrona Venture Group is expecting deals to roll over the next year or two.

The biggest tech companies, such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Google, did a remarkable job managing costs through the downturn and may now be realizing that they “underinvested in innovation,” he said.

“To get growth and innovation, next-generation products, they’re going to have to make some acquisitions,” he said.

Interest rates are still low and the seven biggest tech companies together have $200 billion in cash and could generate $75 billion more this year, he said.

“That sets the stage for at least a 12-to-18-month cycle of acquisitions,” McIlwain said.

Deals may be good for investors, but there’s also a chance the acquiring companies will cut employees or even relocate the businesses.

Buyouts would also continue the Seattle syndrome that leaves the region with an uneven mix of tech companies — a few giants and lots of smaller ones, but not much in between. Companies with promising technologies tend to be sold before they get too big, creating a void in the middle.

But that won’t stop the pinstriped buyers from cruising Elliott with trunks full of cash.

The unusual cluster of tempting opportunities begins with F5, the crown jewel with a market valuation of $4.4 billion as of Friday.

F5 dominates the market for application delivery systems, creating what it calls “strategic points of control” in corporate networks. It’s expecting sales of about $200 million this quarter.

Rumors about F5 being sold have come and gone for years. Some analysts said the big opportunity passed in November when likely buyer Hewlett-Packard bought 3Com instead.

One of those analysts is Jeff Evenson, a Bremerton native at Bernstein Research in New York.

Evenson said F5 would be a strategic fit with a number of companies, but he thinks it could be a challenge to get a deal done.

“The most obvious buyers have an issue that I think is almost insurmountable for them,” he said.

Cisco would be a natural, he said, but it might have trouble getting antitrust approval for a deal if regulators focused on the niche F5 serves.

Within that segment of the network-switching market, the combination of F5 and Cisco would control 80 percent of the market.”

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