PriceWaterhouseCoopers released their 2012 VC numbers and investment was down 10 percent last year versus 2011. Now, cleantech was definitely the leading drag on those figures–clocking in with a year over year 28 percent reduction in investment. But for a while now there’s been concern that VC returns just aren’t performing all that stellar and many VCs will shut down as getting limited partners to invest in additional funds is more difficult. A small thinning of the herd.
But the other trend that’s more disconcerting is that seed stage investing is down across the board. 38 percent fewer startups received seed stage investments last year than in 2011. We’ve been seeing this trend in cleantech for a while and unfortunately it means the government or big corporations have to find the money to invest in early stage, high risk ventures. Cleantech has government programs like ARPA-E, which provides early research funding to get technology to the next stage toward product development.
When I look at the future of the U.S. economy, I continue to believe that the best investments we can make are in education, science, and technology. I’d rather create a highly skilled work force capable of building next generation companies and technologies than chase manufacturing jobs. We may get lucky and see the so called manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. that we’ve been hearing about due to cheap energy and slowly rising wages in the developing world. But I’d rather not count on it.
I have to admit that I was a bit freaked out last year when The New York Times reported that President Obama once asked Steve Jobs “what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?” Dreaming of a moment when U.S. companies bring their manufacturing home seems terribly out of sync with what has to be done in the U.S. to assure that we don’t lose out to European and Asian countries in the future development of technology companies, in biomedicine not just IT. So as we look at these VC numbers, we should be asking, who is going to finance the early stage disruptive research that will produce the next generation of companies that will transform our lives?