Northern California may still dominate the high-technology headlines, but in recent years southern California has begun to challenge the Bay Area as the nation's leading center for electronics industry ventures.

According to a recent survey by the Stamford, Conn. based venture capitalist firm Oxford Partners, the southern California region, including Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties, boasts considerably more companies in such high-tech fields as computers (154 vs. 112), communications (324 vs. 132), electronics (618 vs. 301), and instruments 8822 vs. 344) than does the much-ballyhooed Silicon Valley.

Based in part on these statistics, Oxford last spring decided to locate its California offices away from the venture capital bastions of Menlo Park and San Francisco, opting instead for Santa Monica. "The main consideration was that there are simply more deals here than in north California," claims Stevan Birnbaum, one of two southern California-based partners for the $56-million firm. "We decided it was better to be close to the entrepreneurs than near the other venture capitalists."

This strategy has paid off handsomely for Oxford, Birnbaum claims. With more deals to choose from and a much smaller venture community to compete against -- only 11 venture capital partnerships compared with 84 in northern California -- Birnbaum and his partner, Bill Lonergan, have found a host of promising entrepreneurial ventures to invest in throughout southern California. Indeed, since they opened their Santa Monica offices last april, the region has acoounted for four of the nine deals closed by Oxford Partners throughout the United States.

Southern California's favorable business climate has even drawn the attention of some of Silicon Valley's most astute venture capitalists, including such well-known investors as J. Burgess Jamieson and Don Valentine. The most active of these intrastate carpetbaggers may well be San Francisco-based Jean Delaege, who has made some 20 investments over the past seven years in southern California high-tech firms, including Printronix, Ingene, Corona Data Systems, Softsel Computer Products, and Tandon.

"It's a much easier environment to find opportunities in," Deleage explains. "Everyone isn't crawling over everyone else to get to deals. We simply get better and more deals in southern California."