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Finish Line

For VC-backed companies, M&A is usually how the story ends.

Mike Walrath, 32, founded Right Media Inc. in 2003 as a New York-area consulting firm for buyers and sellers of internet advertisements. It wasn't long, though, before he created an online network where buyers and sellers could come together in a real-time internet ad auction. The concept caught on, and in 2005, VC firms started funding the company. After two rounds of venture financing, Right Media sold to Yahoo this spring for about $720 million. "We see this as the next logical step," Walrath says. "We don't talk about this as an outcome or an exit."

For the VC funds that nurture companies such as Right Media, however, acquisitions are typically an exit. Even with IPOs showing a small resurgence this year, M&A remains by far the most common exit strategy for venture-backed companies. "Even during the dotcom boom, more VCs were exiting through M&A than through IPOs," says Kurt Roth of Intercap Merchant Partners, a merchant banking firm. "That's always been true."

What has changed are the sectors likely to find M&A suitors and, by extension, VC funding. Historically, software has vacuumed up the largest share of VC dollars, but it was toppled early this year by life sciences. Sectors likely to be attractive in the coming years are medical device makers, media and entertainment (internet-related and downloading companies), green energy, and telecommunications (alternative communication networks).

Walrath says the best strategy for attracting VC dollars and, ultimately, generating a good outcome is to be an expert in your industry. "[If you're] in an area you care passionately about," he says, "you'll discover things that aren't intuitive to others but that are fairly obvious to you."

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This article was originally published in the August 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Finish Line.

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