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Venture capital rides wave of uncertainty

Venture capital investment fell sharply in Ohio in 2012, and it also dropped nationwide as some investors responded to widespread economic uncertainty by taking fewer financial risks, according to some industry experts.

But the decline in Ohio does not signal a shift in economic and investment confidence, because amounts often vary drastically year to year.

“In a market the size of Ohio, one large deal can look like an upswing one year, and a downward trend the next,” said Jonathan Murray, past president and current trustee with the Ohio Venture Capital Association. “In general, the Ohio venture capital industry is expanding.”

Ohio had 61 venture capital deals in 2012 worth about $288.9 million, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association’s MoneyTree report. The previous year, Ohio had 73 deals worth $432.5 million.

Nationwide, there were 3,698 venture capital deals last year worth $26.5 billion. It was a 6 percent decrease in deals and a 10 percent decrease in venture funding.

The struggling economy meant venture capitalists were more likely to focus their resources on their existing companies instead of funding new start-ups, said Brian Williams, director of global health care strategy with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The U.S. presidential election also fueled worries about potential changes to tax rates and the health care reform law.

“It probably made people a little leery of putting additional money at risk,” he said.

But Ohio continues to attract its proportional share of venture funding, which is crucial to the state’s economy because many of today’s start-ups will one day be large and successful companies, Williams said.

Last year, Ohio had the 10th most venture deals in the nation, and it ranked 12th for the amount of capital it attracted. But venture investment in the state is a drop in the bucket compared to California, which had $14 billion in venture investment last year, and Massachusetts, which attracted $3 billion in capital.

Venture capital is an investment product with a “long-term horizon,” and year-over-year statistics are not that meaningful in Ohio because a large deal or two can skew the numbers, said Murray, with the Ohio Venture Capital Association.

The estimates in the MoneyTree report are so large that private equity and buyout deals must be included in the figures, he said.

There are more Ohio-based funds and more funds from out of state are investing in the state, he said.

“Most Ohio cities are engaging in strategies to build entrepreneurial ecosystems and to form companies from those,” Murray said. “So are most Ohio universities.”

Last year, most of the largest venture investments in Ohio were in biotechnology and medical equipment and devices, according to the MoneyTree report. The top venture deal was a $43.9 million investment in the online company Manta Media in Columbus.

AssureRX Health Inc., a personalized medicine company in Mason, announced in May that it acquired $12.5 million in venture financing to increase commercial activities for two of its products, according to a release from the company .

“Our goal is to build the leading clinical informatics company providing pharmacogenomic and other treatment decision support products to help physicians individualize the treatment of patients with neuropsychiatric and other disorders,” said James S. Burns, president and CEO of AssureRx Health. “Proceeds from the Series C financing will be used to expand sales coverage, sponsor multiple clinical studies, and develop new products to help accelerate our leadership position in psychiatric personalized medicine.”

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