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3/11/2013
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In U.K., VC Cash Highest Since Dot Com Bust

Venture capitalist investments in Britain and Ireland are the highest since 2001, say analysts.

Tablets Rock On: Education Tech Through The Ages
Tablets Rock On: Education Tech Through The Ages
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Venture capital investment in U.K. and Irish technology companies is at its highest level since the inglorious end of the dot com bubble 12 years ago.

That's the conclusion of corporate finance group Ascendant, which says 2012 saw over a billion pounds ($1.5 billion) of VC funding released to promising tech firms in the two countries.

That £1.01 billion number is up from 2011's £788m ($1.2 billion), while the number of target companies being helped also rose -- to 232 U.K. and Irish companies in 2012 from 193 in 2011.

There are even more backers, too: 248 investors cut checks to contender companies they liked last year, as opposed to 2011's 228 in 2011. All in all, 93 London technology companies got growth capital in the period, says the group, followed by 17 in Dublin, 14 in Cambridge, 12 in Edinburgh and 10 in Oxford.

[ Guess which sector is getting a big piece of the VC pie? Read Education Tech Investments Surpassed $1 Billion In 2012. ]

That's the highest VC outlay locally since a 2001 high-water mark of almost twice that -- £1.9 billion ($2.9 billion) -- and it's being regarded as a significant milestone in U.K. business circles.

Not all the startups included in the numbers offer conventional IT. The biggest individual hit was for an outfit called Tamar Energy, a developer of anaerobic digestion plants, which grabbed 9.6% of the total, while a fast-food online delivery service, Just Eat, got £40 million ($60 million). However, conventional IT companies as a group nabbed the biggest chunk of money, with 90 Internet companies getting £456m ($679 million), while 55 British and Irish software companies receiving £106 million ($158 million).

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The influential U.K. business trade magazine Management Today published an op-ed piece that declared, "These figures are encouraging [and] demonstrate that tech is beginning to step up and play a leading role in the UK economy. If the UK is going to compete in the modern global economy, technology companies will have to play a major role. But it is only through strong levels of investment that we can make good startups become exceptional businesses… We need to ensure that there is a steady pipeline of both start-ups and later-stage growth companies ready to provide exceptional returns to investors through new, dynamic and often disruptive business models."

The news comes after last week's bullish promise from London Mayor Boris Johnson to attract enough inward tech investment to make London the world's "smartest city". Given that Ascendant says that in the fourth quarter, 29 London-based tech companies got £151 million ($225 million) of VC backing, equal to 48% of the volume and 72% of the value of the market in the quarter, Johnson might be on to something.

The next most active location for VCs after London was not, perhaps surprisingly, the Cambridge area -- home of so-called Silicon Fen -- but Scotland (14%).

The U.S., by comparison, is still suffering. According to The Wall Street Journal investment by VC companies dropped 15% in 2012 to $29.7 billion. Still, that's 20 times what the U.K. and Ireland have managed between them.

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