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Red hot: Russian internet deals tripled in 2011

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Anyone who has been watching the news streaming out of Moscow over the last year probably has little doubt that Russia’s been heating up, not least because it now boasts the largest internet market in Europe. But now there are numbers to back that feeling up — and they’re pretty impressive.

A new report examining the changes in the Runet over the past couple of years shows that dealflow in the Russian internet market tripled between 2010 and 2011, with more money, more investments and more active companies as a result.

The numbers, pulled together by Fast Lane Ventures, show that there were more than 200 investments and deals made in Russia’s internet market in 2011 — far higher than the 59 deals made the previous year. The overall investment amount, too, was up: from $225 million in 2010 to $540 million a year later.

Then there were a few substantial exits: from Qik’s sale to Skype (s MSFT) to the IPO of Yandex (s YNDX).

In addition, there’s a large dark space — because so much activity takes place privately.

According to Fast Lane’s Andrey Kulikov, this could be substantial.

“We are aware of at least 100-150 seed investments completed by businesses and non-public holdings, and 20-30 major investments whose financial information is completely closed,” he said.

Put it all together and you get an image of a market that is definitely more vibrant than ever.

It’s not all great news, however. The report, put together by the incubator-come-clone-factory Fast Lane Ventures — whose CEO Marina Treshchova I interviewed earlier this year — also points out that there are some trends to be careful of.

While the volume of seed, early-stage and growth investments increased, the fact that funding did not keep pace means that each deal was worth less on average. Blockbuster funding such as Ozon’s $100 million round last September aside, the average deal size is now smaller than it was at the end of 2010.

And, of course, this data is about fundraising and major exits — not revenues. It’s unclear how many of the companies involved in this survey are profit-making, and with many of them copycats of Western businesses, any internetnaional expansion plans must be severely limited.

Still, Treshchova says that expansion through copycats is the “logical” solution to help meet demand in a fast-growing internet market — and it can still provide significant profits.

“This is a logical trend. Using proven business models minimizes risks of failure and can significantly speed up the process of developing and launching new companies,” she said. “This speed is critical within the internet market. Ideas are flying in the air and the winner is the one who implements them first.”

Her own company is a prime example of this in action: since launching in 2010, Fast Lane has already made a couple of significant exits, selling Zappos copy Sapato to Ozon and then Shopping Live.

Photograph used under Creative Commons courtesy of Flickr user Yeowatzup

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