value-short.jpg…if you move quickly, that is.

If you’re starting a company and raising a first round of capital, you’re raising money on the most favorable terms since the end of the last bubble. The latest data available gathered from the secretive world of venture capital show that the median value of a company raising a first round of capital is $8.66 million. That’s the highest since the first quarter of 2001, which was the tail end of the last bubble.

In other words, if you’re going to raise capital, do it now.

When venture capitalists invest money into a company, they negotiate its so-called “pre-money value” with the company’s founder, so they know how much of an ownership stake they own in return for their cash. The most recent data was taken from financings in the second quarter, and compiled by Dow Jones VentureOne.

A couple of caveats though. The first is that valuations can fluctuate significantly, and its difficult to tell how long the relative high will last. Note how value dropped to $5.4 million during the first quarter. Here’s a spreadsheet showing the historical trends, which shows how valuations have risen steadily, despite frequent fluctuations, since they bottomed out a few years ago after the Internet bubble burst in 2000/2001.

True, over the past two years, we’ve recommended several times that entrepreneurs start companies and raise money because of favorable. (See our story two years ago; note the data we referenced at the time was for all venture financings, not just for the first round). But the credit crunch, and continued woes in the housing sector appear to be a drag on the economy, and this could impact public stocks, which in turn affects the values of private companies.

Indeed, the values for private companies raising money at later rounds are actually down compared to last year. These companies are more mature, and more likely to be affected by public markets. The median second-round value was $16 million during the first half of the year, down from $17.8 million last year. For later rounds, values dipped to $35.25 million from $36 million. [Update: Don Jones, who runs a database/research company called VentureDeal expresses another widely held intepretation below, in comments.]

There are clouds on the horizon, but it’s not certain how just how stormy things will be, and how soon. But if you’re in the early stages, our advice would be to get it done quickly.