If you think the IPO market has cooled because of a few scrapped deals and companies trading down since their offerings, you're missing the big picture. The stream of billion-dollar start-up sales and blockbuster IPOs is a growing draw for investors.
In the first quarter of 2014, there were 36 venture-backed IPOs, which makes the best quarter for new listings since 2000, according to the National Venture Capital Association. Meanwhile, the 105 M&A deals in the quarter was the strongest deal action since 2012.
There is strong momentum for investors seeking returns, too. In the fourth quarter last year, VC funds, on average, outperformed the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.
High-profile exits and strong returns are inspiring a lot more investment: The first quarter was the strongest for fundraising since 2007. VC firms raised $8.9 billion, more than double the amount raised in the year-earlier quarter.
CNBC is about to unveil its second annual Disruptor 50 list, a ranking of the most innovative private companies that are shaking up giants across a range of industries and challenging the status quo. Those disruptive ideas are fueled by big money—and big-name investors.
Ten of last year's Disruptor 50 have either been acquired or have filed to go public, part of the uptick in overall M&A activity and an improved IPO market.
So which VC firms will win big this year?
Kleiner Perkins has the most portfolio companies poised to go public this year, according to research firm CB Insights. Kleiner is followed by New Enterprise Associates, Accel Partners, Intel Capital and Sequoia Capital.
And there are some big-name celebrity investors who have a track record for always placing smart bets. Take legendary investor Marc Andreessen, who along with Ben Horowitz runs Andreessen Horowitz, which in March raised a new $1.5 billion fund. The firm backed nine of the start-ups on last year's Disruptor 50 list: Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare, Airbnb, mobile payments service Boku, Box, 3-D printing company Shapeways, product collaboration platform Quirky, and Bromium, a security software maker.
Then there's PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who now runs Founders Fund. He's also chairman of the board and an investor in big data cruncher Palantir Technologies,one of last year's Disruptors. His fund has backed a number of new companies, contenders for this year's list, along with a number of last year's Disruptor 50 picks: Airbnb, SpaceX, ZocDoc and Spotify.
And one star investor is actually a Hollywood star—Ashton Kutcher. He backed a number of last year's Disruptors, including Uber, Foursquare, Spotify, Airbnb and Twitter. Along with other winning investors, these three may have an eye for disruption, but it's also a virtuous circle: Once they establish a track record, they have their pick of investments.