It's the hardest money for aspiring startup entrepreneurs to get: That very first cash from the investors bold enough to take a chance and get your brand-new business rolling, often while it's still little more than an idea. Thousands of companies pitch investors, and few are chosen.
Fortunately, 2013 was a robust year for venture capital seed funding, a new survey from investment-research firm CB Insights found.
The past year's seed-funding activity was on par with 2012, CB found, with 112 active venture capital firms investing in seed-stage companies. There were a few newer funds that rose into the top ranks, though.
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Here's a look at the ten most active seed-stage venture-capital firms last year. One interesting thing to note here -- in many cases, these VCs teamed up in investing in the startups mentioned below. (Note: The final four entrants actually tie for seventh place in the CB Insights survey.)
- 500 Startups -- Founded by Facebook and Paypal investor Dave McClure, the Silicon Valley-based firm offers up to $250,000 in seed funding, entrepreneur events, and an accelerator program. Last year's crop of recipients included Seattle-based construction industry file-sharing firm BuildersCloud, short-term retail lease marketplace Storefront in New York, and San Francisco online registry BabyList.
- Andreessen Horowitz -- The storied firm started by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen and his early hire Ben Horowitz cashed out with its Zulily investment at year-end. Startups it invested in last year include San Francisco nutrition-drink launch Soylent and college-to-career startup Koru in Seattle.
- SV Angel -- This San Francisco venture firm focuses on startups in its hometown. Seed investments in 2013 included develop-tools company Ink and developer platform CircleCI.
- Lerer Ventures -- New York-based Lerer operates the SohoTechLabs incubator, and invests only in seed-stage companies. Medical video-chat firm Doctor on Demand in San Francisco and Canadian retail-tech firm Tulip were two of Lerer's 2013 investments.
- First Round Capital -- With offices in San Francisco, New York, and Philadelphia, First Round only invests in seed-stage companies. "Sequel to SQL" firm Looker in San Francisco and experts-on-video network Grokker in San Jose were two of First Round's 2013 early-money investments.
- CrunchFund -- TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington's VC firm made more than 20 seed-level investments last year, including Los Angeles-based artisan florist marketplace BloomNation, and San Francisco news site PandoDaily.
- Innovation Works -- This VC focuses mainly on tech companies based in southwestern Pennsylvania. Last year's seed investments included Pittsburgh's BudgetSimple, which offers automated financial planning, and online workplace Sqwiggle in San Francisco.
- Atlas Venture -- This Cambridge, Mass.-based VC focuses on tech and life science startups. Investments included hometown startup data-analytics firm Nutonian, and mobile/web developer collaboration marketplace ooomf in Montreal.
- Connecticut Innovations -- This state-focused firm concentrates on tech companies and launched a $200 million bioscience fund mid-year. In 2013, two rounds of seed funding went to ReadyDock in West Hartford, which manages secure tablets for hospitals, retailers, and funding also went to electronic data-exchange firm Logicbroker in Shelton.
- Founder Collective -- Seed-stage focused Founder is based in Cambridge, Mass., and New York City, but invests worldwide. Startups funded in 2013 include kids' building-set startup Seamless Toy Co. of Boulder, Colo., and social-purchasing firm HeartThis in San Francisco.
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If you're wondering what seed funders are looking for today, you can get a quick education by browsing the funding announcements for these 10 VC leaders to check out dozens of last year's funded companies.
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