2009 venture investments lowest since 1997, cleantech fell 52 percent (MoneyTree report)

Now that 2009 is over, we can add up the numbers on how much venture firms invested in startups during all of 2009 — and, well, it was a lot less than in the past. Over the course of the year, VCs invested a total of $17.7 billion in 2,795 deals, the lowest total since 1997, according to the MoneyTree Report from the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

On the bright side, the worst hit came from numbers that we’ve already reported on, since investments really plummeted during the first half of this year. Funding went up in the third quarter, and more-or-less held steady in the fourth. The amount invested went down from $5.1 billion in the third quarter to $5.0 billion in the fourth quarter, but the numbers of deals went up from 689 to 794. So VCs were making smaller bets, but they placed more fo them. Another reason for optimism: There were more seed and early-stage deals in Q4 than in any other quarter this year, so new ideas are still getting money.

Two of the industries we spend a lot of time covering at VentureBeat took a big funding hit in 2009. Internet-specific companies received $2.9 billion dollars, down 39 percent from 2008. Cleantech fell even further to $1.9 billion, a decline of 52 percent. Meanwhile, VCs put more money into biotech ($3.5 billion) than any other sector, and even then, biotech saw a 19 percent drop from 2008.

NVCA President Mark Heesen acknowledged the drop in a statement released with the report, saying, “The venture industry had no choice but to slow the investment pace in 2009.” But he also offered an optimistic view of the year to come.

“Now that the economy has begun to show signs of improvement, we expect to see dollars flow more freely back into those sectors that offered the most promise before the recession began — clean technology, life sciences and IT,” Heesen said. “The seed and early stage pipeline needs replenishing across all industries and the health of the startup community in the next decade will be dependent upon more robust first-time financings. 2010 should be the year to begin that process in earnest.”

Atlas Venture‘s Jeff Fagnan, who discussed about the numbers during the press conference call, also acknowledged that it has been a slow year for investments. The word for 2009 was “triage,” he said, as venture firms found themselves with smaller reserves for follow-on funding than expected and more portfolio companies that needed help. As a result, most VCs’ attention was devoted to existing portfolio companies, either by offering them a fresh infusion of funds or occasionally by pulling the plug, and they spent less time “being aggressive in the marketplace.” Even when VCs made new investments, Fagnan said they were usually looking for safe bets, rather than “true innovation.”

If you want to hear more about how the venture landscape is changing, we’re partnering with the Founder Institute to hold a Future of Funding event on February 18.

moneytree investmentsmoneytree stagemoneytree internet cleantech