(Editor’s note: Steve Fredrick and Don Rainey are general partners at Grotech Ventures. They submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

While the headlines were filled with the trials and tribulations of the global economy and its effect on the Venture Capital world, there was a lot going on under the radar this year.calendar

2009 has been a tough year to be certain, but intriguing early-stage opportunities still abounded, especially for VCs and entrepreneurs who knew where to look. Recessions have historically been excellent times to start companies – and there’s still a steady stream of attractive possibilities.

Here are some important 2009 trends that many people may have missed:

The expanding start-up world: Many VCs are expanding their geographical horizons. For instance, while California, Massachusetts and New York are still prime locations for venture firms, there are many other fertile areas that are far less saturated.

Colorado and Maryland, for example, were both home to 47 venture investments in the first nine months of 2009, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

The cash-rich candidate: It’s a widely known fact that it doesn’t take as much money to start a company today (which coincidentally corresponds to less supply). Many of the best opportunities we see are in companies that don’t need immediate cash.

These are typically profitable or soon-to-be-profitable companies with solid business models. They want additional capital to accelerate growth, but they don’t need it to survive. This new standard is better for VCs, entrepreneurs and the capital markets that stand behind them.

The VC circle of life: The media is picking up on the demise of some venture firms, but this is really all part of a natural evolutionary cycle. The best firms, like the best companies, adapt to the changing market and their place within it.

At Grotech, we have been able to weather numerous market cycles over the last 25 years because we have been able to successfully adapt to ever-changing market opportunities. We expect to see fewer firms going forward and will likely see a changing focus for some of those that remain. These changes are positive and natural. Any imbalance in the number of firms chasing ideas or ideas chasing firms creates market distortion.

Signs of life: Slowly but surely, the exit markets are rebounding. There were three venture-backed IPOs in Q3 2009, according to the NVCA, including A123 Systems, which at $380.4 million marked the largest venture-backed IPO since March 2007. In the first nine months of 2009, there were eight venture-backed IPOs – more than in all of 2008 (which recorded six).

However, many companies today see M&A as their best exit strategy. Keep in mind, however, that there is a relatively small pool of companies in a position to acquire others and these companies are also setting higher standards for the companies they buy. A good acquisition candidate generally has a strong upward revenue trend and brings something of substantive value to the company acquiring it (i.e., a robust sales channel, a global footprint, a strong and unique technology roadmap, etc.).

Photo by Jason Permenter via Flicker