Venture Club finds reason for optimism

The Lexington Venture Club on Tuesday night held its annual celebration of entrepreneurs' accomplishments amid optimism over an encouraging report.

The group, gathered with others at Buster's Billiards & Backroom in the distillery district, heard that entrepreneurial companies in the Bluegrass region attracted $65 million in venture funding in 2010.

The $65 million is up from $47.5 million in 2009 and back to the pre-recession level of $64 million in 2007. The amount of funding was $68 million in 2008, but that year included a nearly $30 million acquisition.

The figures come from the club's annual survey, to which 89 companies responded this year.

"These companies are strengthening Lexington's high-tech sectors, and we're impressed each year by their growth," said Bob Quick, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington, in a statement. "They truly are rock stars in our community."

The companies surveyed reported $94 million in revenue in 2010. That's far above previous years including $32.4 million in 2009, $37.8 million in 2008 and $32.1 million in 2007.

"We did have one company who came in with a significantly large amount of revenue," said Gina Greathouse, senior vice president of economic development at Commerce Lexington. "It was very exciting for us."

The survey promises anonymity for the respondents, so she declined to release the company's name.

Warren Nash, director of the Lexington Innovation & Commercialization Center at the University of Kentucky, said it shows the startups "are coming into their own, slowly but surely."

Employment numbers were down 7 percent compared with 2009, though the number of full-time employees rose slightly, according to the survey. The survey's respondents employed 748 people in 2010, including 537 full-time. In 2009, the employment number was 804, including 532 full-time. The 2010 numbers outpace the 532 total in 2008 and 422 in 2007.

Despite the struggling economy, the companies participating in the survey hired 240 people including 154 full-time in 2010, down from 386 in 2009 but up from 230 in 2008. Survey respondents hired 162 in 2007.

The average salary at the firms was $63,485 for full-timers, down 9 percent from $69,800 in 2009 and 2 percent from $65,000 in 2008. The average salary was up, though, compared with $61,000 in 2007.