When it comes to hunting down venture capitalists, the quintessential reference tool is Pratt's Guide to Venture Capital Sources (Venture Economics, Newark, N.J., $145). Now in its 14th edition, this 701-page tome features articles about working with venture capitalists -- plus detailed listings on 800 venture capitalists across the United States (complete with their industry preferences and whom to contact). But if you want to accelerate the search process, there are some new, computer-based directories worth investigating. At least two are now available on both IBM- and Mac-compatible disks:

* VenCap Data Quest, from Artificial Intelligence Research, in Mountain View, Calif., offers two sizes of databases, depending on your needs. The larger database ($89.95) has information on 399 venture-capital firms; the smaller one ($49.95), around 250. With either, you can scroll through for names of people to contact, the amounts they like to invest, industry and geographical preferences, and companies they've invested in. For convenience, you can also sort through the database according to your own special criteria. For instance, you can pull out every venture capitalist within a three-hour drive from Des Moines who is willing to consider a $250,000 investment in a sporting-goods business. AI Research sells single quarterly updates of its listings ($69 for the larger version, $39 for the smaller).

* The Financing Sources Databook, from Data-Merge, in Denver, offers users a similar capability, allowing them to sort by industry, location, and deal size. Also, you can learn whether investors will insist on a board seat. This product contains comprehensive information on more sources than VenCap Data Quest does -- about 750 venture capitalists, banks, and finance companies are included; furthermore, it provides less complete detail on more than 2,000 additional sources. The basic product sells for $399. A version with fewer listings sells for $139. Updates can be purchased for $75 and $49 respectively. -- Michael P. Cronin