A123 headlines busy week for upcoming IPOs

After a long dry spell, a large, venture-backed cleantech IPO is about to debut.

Battery maker A123 Systems, which raised about $283 million in venture funding over the past eight years, is preparing to launch a 25.6 million share offering on Nasdaq this week under the symbol AONE. The Watertown, Mass.-based company plans to raise up to $258 million, with a proposed share price range of between $8 and $9.50.

Market response to the offering will be closely watched by cleantech investors, who see it as a gauge of viability for additional offerings in the sector.

Last year, VCs invested $4.1 billion in cleantech companies, bringing the total invested in the sector since 2004 to more than $9 billion, according to The MoneyTree Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters (publisher of PE Week).

But in the last couple years, large cleantech IPOs have been scarce. The last two sizeable venture-backed offerings in the sector—for EnerNOC, a provider of energy management services to utilities, and Comverge, provider of software for monitoring power consumption—launched in spring of 2007. When the IPO market stalled last year, cleantech companies that had filed or expected to file for an offering put their plans on hold.

A123, which counts as its largest venture investors North Bridge Venture Partners, with a 12.5% pre-IPO stake, followed by General Electric (11.7%), Sycamore Networks co-founder Gururaj Desphande (9.9%), Qualcomm (7.6%) and Motorola (6.9%), initially filed to go public in August 2008.

A123 is not the only hot IPO ticket on the launching pad this week. The pace of IPOs is picking up across all sectors in recent months.

In addition to A123, this week is set to be a particularly busy one as companies planning offerings include Shanda Games, a unit of Chinese media company Shanda Interactive, and Select Medical Holdings, a hospital operator two-thirds owned by buyout fund Welsh Carson Anderson & Stowe. Vitacost.com, an online health supplement retailer, asset manager Artio Global Investors, and three real estate investment trusts are also planning IPOs.

Meanwhile, the pipeline of companies registered to go IPO is also growing. As of mid-September, there have been 47 IPOs filings this year, of which more than two-thirds were made in the third quarter. The VC-backed filings are coming from a range of sectors, covering everything from consumer retail to foreign exchange to network security. Most are seeking to raise $100 million or more in their market debuts.

One notable new filing from earlier this was by Rue21, a Warrendale, Penn.-based youth clothing retailer, which plans to raise $125 million via an IPO of common stock. Apax Partners holds a 63.4% pre-IPO ownership stake, while BNP Paribas holds a 23.6% stake in Rue21.

In addition, Gain Capital Holdings, operator of the retail foreign exchange trading service Forex.com, has filed for a $125 million IPO on Nasdaq. The Bedminster, N.J.-based company raised abut $175 million in VC funding beginning in 1999 from VantagePoint Venture Partners, Tudor Ventures, Edison Venture Fund, Cross Atlantic Capital, 3i Group and Blue Rock Capital.