Tough times for venture-backed wireless –

With no strings to hold on to, wireless communications companies seem unable to hang on in the public markets. Of the 11 venture-backed wireless firms that went public last year, only two have current stock prices above their offering price.

Moreover, the market is so bleak that only one VC-backed wireless company is currently planning an initial public offering this year.

That firm is Brience Inc. (Proposed NNM: BRIE), which filed its S-1 last Sept. 29 and still has not set a date for its IPO. It has received three rounds of financing, the most recent of which was $3.52 million in a deal led by Greylock Management Corp. Brience provides a software platform that enables the delivery of Web-based content and the extension of business software applications to wireless mobile devices. The company has net losses of $17 million from its March 8, 2000 inception to Aug. 31, 2000, but hopes to offset those numbers with $100 million from the public markets.

As for its anticipated public performance, however, the recent experience of its wireless peers may point to disappointing news.

The best performer of last year’s VC-backed wireless IPOs came from Rochester, Minn.-based Pemstar (NNM: PMTR). The electronics manufacturing service provider, which has received funding from Lehman Brothers among others, opened trading Aug. 8, 2000 at $11.38 per share, and closed trading on Tuesday at $12.63.

Also trading above its opening price is Redmond, Wash.-based Metawave Communications (NNM: MTWV), a provider of smart antenna systems to wireless network operators. It began trading at $10 April 26, 2000, and closed up 81 cents as of Tuesday. Metawave was backed by such investors as Merrill Lynch Capital Partners, Oak Investment Partners, Patricof & Co. Ventures Inc., Seven Rosen Management Co. and Venrock Associates.

The worst performer of last year was Telaxis Communications (NNM:TLXS), a South Deerfield, Mass.-based company which develops broadband wireless access equipment used by network service providers to deliver integrated voice, video and data services to business and residential subscribers. The company — which was backed by Advanced Technology Ventures, Prism Venture Partners and 14 other venture capital firms — debuted on the NASDAQ Feb. 1, 2000 at $46 per share. Over the past 12 months, Telaxis had fallen to a paltry $1.94 by its Tuesday close.

Frank Musero can be contacted at