By Karen Bernstein

Companies in need of cash shouldn't hold out any hopes that their venture backers will bail them out. Nor is the low price of most biotech shares luring much of the venture community to prop up stocks with the promise of a quick profit. Although some are playing the market, or putting more money into their publicly held companies, a survey of 14 top VCs indicates that that is the exception rather than the rule.

Overall, the money venture investors put into public companies will make a difference only to a handful of companies - both because there aren't enough venture investors putting money into the public markets, and because they are being extremely selective.

Among the few who actually play the stock market are Institutional Venture Partners and Abingworth Management Ltd. IVP is unusual among the venture community in that its founder, Reid Dennis, was originally a public trader. As a result, IVP always has bought stocks on the open market, generally keeping less than 10 percent of its fund in publicly traded stocks.

'People hate 'em'

"We've bought a number of the biotechs over the years and made a lot of money out of them," said Samuel Colella, a general partner at IVP. "If you're not on the board, it's easy to trade. A number of us have also been buying for our own account."