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M&A activity brings life back into market
May, 28th 2010

A high-tech hotel in Silicon Valley shows that tales of the tech industrys demise are a bit exaggerated.

IVE NEVER stayed in a hotel before that highlights its technology butler, but the Rosewood Sand Hill, an upmarket venue on Silicon Valleys well- known avenue of the venture capitalists, knows its clientele.

The Rosewood is a luxurious, fairly new, sprawling hotel on Sand Hill Road at the base of the coastal hills just off Highway 280, at the exit for Stanford University. Locals call it the VC hotel handy for visitors to the offices of the Valleys money men (and occasional women) that line Sand Hill Road.

Its the only hotel in the area and isnt directly convenient to anything except VCs, Stanford and a couple of Starbucks. Many wondered whether it would survive, but it clearly fills a need for elegance and cocktails with a view more easily found 40 miles north in San Francisco.

It features a high-end restaurant and bar that is packed most nights with Valley money glamorous people with the regions favoured, expensively understated look (except for the cars think valets parking orange Lamborghinis and a car park full of multi-hued Porsches of an evening and you get the general idea).

At the Rosewood, you stay in cottages which are indeed rooms, but spacious, with high wood ceilings, walk-in closets, huge bathrooms and trendy gadgetry. To get into your room, you hold your keycard against a scanner. Once in, you can use your TV remote control to adjust the air conditioner and fan, run the sound system and, of course, to watch TV or play movies.

By the door, theres a little control box with buttons you press to indicate whether you wish to have privacy or have your room made up. Why hang a sign on your doorknob when you can convey the do not disturb message in a more high-tech way?

These are hotel rooms for guys who feel Q should have spent more time making civilian life fun rather than catering to that cad Bond.

The technology butler may be summoned to help with any personal or business technology needs (but, unfortunately, is apparently unable to travel back to Ireland to help sort out my home wireless network).

The Rosewood just goes to show that tales of the tech industrys demise were a bit exaggerated. At the moment, in this region of constant invention and reinvention, it seems the VCs (as well as the lawyers and the entrepreneurs) may have something to celebrate.

Mergers and acquisitions were up substantially this year so far compared to the same period last year. According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, the Valley has seen 255 M&As, worth $17.1 billion (13.9 billion) , compared to 192 deals worth $12.9 billion in the same period last year. That includes two huge pending acquisitions: SAPs pursuit of Sybase for $5.8 billion, and Hewlett-Packards $1.2 billion purchase of Palm.

Acquisitions generally make VCs happy, as they get their payback and money is released to be rolled into future investments. Some smart people will leave the acquired companies during the M&A process, and statistics show that, as a consequence, this tends to be a time when brains go to work and new companies and technologies are born.

VCs have been waiting to see some life come back into the market in this way, and the Mercury says surveys are showing the money guys are more upbeat than they have been in ages.

New reports from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association indicate that VC investment is up substantially this past quarter too at $4.7 billion in the US, up 38 per cent on the $3.8 billion invested in the comparable quarter last year.

As usual, the San Francisco Bay Area region sucked in most of the cash 32 per cent of the total. Still, a companion survey by Moneytree reveals that investments were actually dropping compared to previous quarters in Bay Area start-ups.

This past quarter, $1.53 billion went into 202 deals in the region, compared to $1.94 billion and 268 deals the previous quarter, and $2.35 billion in 219 deals a quarter earlier.

Deals increased in other US regions, such as New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Still, the cash amounts were significantly smaller than in the Valley region $464 million in Los Angeles, for example. The bulk of venture funding is going into the biomedical and health sectors, with slightly more than twice as much cash going to that area compared to the software sector (29 per cent against 14 per cent of Bay Area investment funding).

The burgeoning bar in the Rosewood though is as good an indication as any venture capital report that cash is beginning to flow again.

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