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Venture

With their numbers growing and their visibility increasing, high-tech companies along the Ventura (101) Freeway Corridor are finding it easier to attract venture capital.

“There is a lot more money available and in many cases I think they (investors) can be attracted here,” said Bill Terrell, the president of Westlake Village-based Troika Networks Inc.

The “here,” Terrell is referring to is an area along the Ventura Freeway roughly extending from the western San Fernando Valley to Camarillo, where the growth of a handful of large high-tech companies has sparked numerous smaller start-ups.

Formed in 1996, Troika, which develops software to manage corporate networking systems, received a $3.2 million infusion of venture capital investment in January. Two-thirds of those funds came from Redwood City-based venture capitalists Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The remainder came from Torrance-based DynaFund Ventures, which plans to keep a close eye on the area, said Tony Hung, the firm’s vice president.

“It is certainly going to be a focus for us going forward,” Hung said. “Success is going to breed more success, leading to spin-off companies and a greater talent pool.”

A total of 28 companies based in the corridor area received $151 million in venture capital investment 1997, according to Coopers & Lybrand LLC.

While there were no comparative figures available from the previous year, the growth closely mirrors the rise in overall investment for Los Angeles County, said Massoud Entekhabi, a managing partner at Coopers & Lybrand.

“Compared to two or three years ago, there has been tremendous growth in venture capital investment in the corridor area,” Entekhabi said. “About a third of the venture capital investment in the county goes to companies in that area.”

Countywide, 61 companies received $254.5 million in venture capital funding last year a 122 percent rise from the amount invested in 1995.

While there may be more capital, it remains difficult for companies to get hold of it. Most of the state’s venture capital firms are in Northern California, and investors are often wary of investments they cannot watch over.

Some of the Northern California-based firms Terrell approached declined to invest in the company partly because of its location. He said some potential investors also were concerned that the size of the skilled workforce in the high-tech corridor area might be too small and that not enough people are willing to move to the area.

“They said it’s hard to convince people to move to Southern California because they feel left out of the loop when they’re away from Silicon Valley,” Terrell said. “We’ve found plenty of people from up north who like the slower pace of life here and the fact that things are generally more affordable.”

Concerns about the size of the workforce appear to be fading, partly because the number of high-tech firms is growing, according to Jonathan Funk, general partner with the Los Angeles office of Media Technology Ventures, a Los Altos-based venture capital firm.

“There is the beginning of an infrastructure of companies there,” Funk said. “(Multimillion-dollar public) companies like Xylan and Xircom in the area are creating an environment where new companies start up around them.”

As companies grow in size and number, they are establishing a local pool of talent that other companies can draw from, he said.

While the level of venture capital investment is on the rise, the money is only helping a small percentage of firms in the area. Smaller firms are not drawing the interest of venture firms because of their size, said Rohit Shukla, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance.

“If a company doesn’t look like it can become a $150 million company in two years, a venture capital company is, by and large, not interested,” Shukla said. “Most companies in the area are too small and simply won’t grow that fast.”

But a business of significant size can be relatively assured of getting the attention of venture capital companies.

Calabasas-based Digital Insight Corp. for example, has been the object of some competition among investors.

The firm, which develops and manages online banking services for banks, credit unions and thrifts, received a $3 million investment from Menlo Park-based Menlo Ventures and $5 million from the Boston-based Harbourvest Partners, said President and Chief Executive Paul Fiore.

“We were in a situation where there was competition to invest in us,” Fiore said. “This allowed us to get more favorable conditions on the investment than we would have otherwise.”

Because there is often less competition to invest in the 101 Corridor than there would be in Silicon Valley, some investment firms are finding they can get more for their money by investing in the area. When a number of venture capital firms are vying for a position in a hot, fast-growing company, the deals made tend to favor the company getting the investment, while venture capital companies often have to settle for conditions that offer lower returns, Shukla said.

DynaFund’s Hung agreed that there are advantages to doing deals in Southern California.

“It’s a lot more dog-eat-dog in Northern California,” he said. “Up there, there are 300 V.C. firms competing for the same deals. Here, there’s a lot of money chasing good deals, but it’s much less cutthroat.”

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