Venture Capitalists Are Hoping Fortunes Turn Around

businessman money venture capitalist investor
Erics Photography | E+ | Getty Images

Risk was in vogue for the first quarter, except for one notable place—the venture capitalists, who help grease the wheels for start-up companies looking to spread their wings.

By one measure, at least, the industry had its worst quarter in nearly 10 years, as companies found it hard to raise money for start-up firms.

Advocates are hoping, though, that a recent spate of initial public offerings is a sign that things are about to get better.

"You hope for the best but plan for the worst," said John Taylor, head of research at the National Venture Capital Association. "We hope that the logjam breaks in 2013 and a good number of companies are able to go public."

(Read More: A Big Week for IPOs, and More Are Coming)

Venture capital is money that goes to budding firms that ultimately hope to go public and then reward their initial investors with the profits that come with IPOs.

The $199 billion industry measures success by two key metrics: The number of companies that are able to raise funds, and the total dollar amount contributed.

In the first three months of 2013, the $4.1 billion raised represented a 22 percent increase over the previous quarter.

But the 35 funds that participated marked a 14 percent decline quarter-over-quarter, and a 34 percent plunge from the first quarter of 2012.

In terms of funds that were able to raise money, it was the worst period since the third quarter of 2003, according to data from the NVCA and Thomson Reuters.

(Read More: Fed's Rosengren: We May Need Even More Easing)

The level of funds involved raises concerns that the IPO market could have a tougher time ahead.

"What you have now is a lot of the established venture firms still having a large number of companies in portfolios that have not been able to go public or be acquired at a good price," Taylor said. "Exit markets have not been kind recently."

Recent market behavior, though, shows the ground could be shifting.

(Read More: Blackstone Talking to PE Firms About JCP Investment)

Six IPOs worth $1.63 billion priced this week, featuring the $722 million Taylor Morrison Home offering, according to Ipreo Capital Markets. Another six worth $1.87 billion are in the pipeline for next week.

If that pace keeps up, it could put the market past the $21.5 billion worth of deals from 2012, a picture distorted by the Facebook offering, which itself raised $16 billion.

Not all IPOs are backed by venture capital firms, so the data comparisons are inexact.

In the most recent week for which data was available, in late March, half of the eight IPOs were sponsored, bringing the year-to-date volume to $2.6 billion on 10 deals, down 25 percent from 2012.

Companies waiting in the venture capital pipeline are only about half normal, Taylor said, causing him to worry about what kind of a year it will be for the industry.

What it needs more than anything, he said, is a little positive momentum.

"The whole venture ecosystem is based on venture firms establishing fundraising," Taylor said. "If there's a stress in the industry it's that there are so many companies currently in portfolios trying to go public, wanting to go public, but can't go public simply because the markets have not been there."

—By CNBC's Jeff Cox;Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.