Is 3i pulling out of early stage tech startups?

What’s going on at major venture capital firm 3i? Several whispers are reaching me that the VC group is planning to pull out of backing early stage Web ventures. A source who ought to know tells me they’ve heard such talk “from folk within 3i. At the end of ’07 they were trying to figure out where the VC team’s leadership would fit in the rest of the organisation, etc but I believe an announcement should come soon.” It would be a big story if 3i were exiting from earlier stage web plays.

However, a senior source at 3i tells me “No, that’s not the case – we continue to be committed to our web investments.” 3i has been a backer of Fastbooking, Taptu and Cachelogic in recent times.

So there you have it. Move along people, nothing to see here.

Meanwhile, 3i’s CEO Philip Yea told The Guardian on the weekend that they still saw opportunities in the European buyout market, despite the credit crunch. Yea said the market for very large deals in Europe had closed but “there are deals going to get done… We’re continuing to evaluate deals as we speak, we’ve done deals, so I think it’s just going to be a slightly slower rhythm, a slightly more hesitant rhythm.”

Whether that “rythmn” means tech startups will still be kept on in the 3i orchestra remains to be seen.