Venture-capital investing remained steady during the second quarter despite a general slowdown of the U.S. economy. But mature startups are...

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Venture-capital investing remained steady during the second quarter despite a general slowdown of the U.S. economy. But mature startups are finding it difficult to move out of the nest, forcing investors to devote more of their money and time to later-stage companies at the expense of younger ones.

In the U.S., venture capitalists invested some $7.4 billion, unchanged from last year, according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data provided by Thomson Reuters.

Venture-capital activity in Washington remained flat, although the top deals were smaller than in the past.

Hot sectors such as clean technology and Internet software helped maintain the level of investment nationally, and venture capitalists poured large amounts in late-stage firms that may have gone public or been sold to bigger firms in a better economic environment.

But there were only 301 first-time financing deals, down from 356 in the same quarter last year, according to the survey.

“Venture capitalists are focusing on their later-stage companies; it’s difficult for them to turn their attention to taking on new companies and new projects,” said John Taylor, vice president of research at the National Venture Capital Association.

There were no venture-backed initial public offerings in the second quarter, and only five in the first quarter, down from 47 in the first half of 2007, as financial turmoil suppressed public markets’ appetite for risk. In a statement earlier this month, the association called the situation a “capital-markets crisis for the startup community.”

Rocky markets also weigh down on the acquisition of startups by large firms, traditionally another way for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to cash out on their investment.

Many big companies, especially in the pharmaceutical sector, are seeing their financial strength sapped and hunkering down to survive what many fear could be a recession.

Some investors are concerned that the crisis might last for a while. “I don’t see anything that’s going to turn this around quickly,” said Fred Craves, managing director of Bay City Capital, a San Francisco venture-capital firm specializing in life sciences. “We are not planning on the availability of an IPO market anytime this year.”

Washington state was the nation’s fourth most active venture-capital hub. Activity remained constant: Local firms raised $278 million, essentially unchanged from the same quarter last year. The field was dominated by software, biotechnology and media/entertainment startups.

“The environment is still continuing to foster technology companies,” said PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Stephen Sommerville.

Investments were smaller than in the previous quarter. Wetpaint.com, an Internet software maker that allows people to create their own social Web sites, scored the state’s top deal, at $25 million. The first quarter’s largest deal belonged to Alder Biopharmaceuticals, which raised some $40 million.

Biotechnology firm Immune Design, formerly called Vaccsys, raised the second-biggest round — $18 million.

The company was founded by Steven Reed, who helped start the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle and local biotech success Corixa; Nobel laureate David Baltimore and Larry Corey, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s chief of infectious diseases.

Robert Nelsen, Seattle-based managing director at ARCH Ventures, said that his firm is still investing in early-stage companies “at about the same rate” as it has done in the past, “because we are seeing some good deals right now.”

But there’s growing uncertainty.

“There is still plenty of money around, but people are always watching whether they can get out of deals [when the investments mature], and right now it looks like it will take a year or two longer than expected,” he said.

Ángel González: 206-515-5644