VCs Went on Torrid (Relatively) Fundraising Pace in Q1

The U.S. venture capital community went on a tear, raising more than $7 billion during the first quarter for its best annual start since 2001, just before the dot-com crash.

The fresh capital marks a 76% increase from the first quarter of 2010, when venture capital firms raised $4 billion, according to data released last month by Thomson Reuters (publisher of VCJ) and the National Venture Capital Association.

The three-month period is the strongest quarter for raising capital since the third quarter of 2008.

While the fund-raising efforts hit some new highs, the number of firms involved is fewer than a year earlier. During the first quarter of 2011, 36 venture capital firms raised money, compared with 44 in the first quarter of 2010.

“While it is encouraging to see the increase in dollars this quarter, much of that was driven by several larger, established funds,” NVCA President Mark Heesen said in a statement.

Bessemer Venture Partners led the pack, raising $1.6 billion during the quarter, followed by Sequoia Capital at $1.3 billion and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Digital Growth Fund at $1.2 billion. Also, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers raked in more than $930 million for its KPCB Digital Growth Fund.

Of the funds raised in the first quarter, 25 were follow-on funds and 11 were new funds. The biggest new fund reporting commitments during the first quarter was Arizona-based True North Venture Partners, which raised $192 million.