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Column: Georgia Research Alliance’s VentureLab has good record

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, June 7, 2013

After launching its venture capital effort — VentureLab — a decade ago, the Georgia Research Alliance and the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts have concluded that the track record is quite good.

About 71 percent of the companies that have participated in GRA’s VentureLab since 2002 are still doing business in Georgia, while 29 percent are inactive. The survival rate of 133 VentureLab companies compares favorably to the survival rate of startup companies nationally, according to the Georgia Department of Audits.

As of September 2012, 87 percent of VentureLab companies survived to a second year compared with 67 percent nationally; and 76 percent survived to a fourth year compared with 44 percent nationally.

Susan Shows, GRA’s senior vice president, said that in 2002, VentureLab began when Duane Ackerman, then-CEO of BellSouth, was chairman of the organization.

“It was a whole new direction for GRA,” Shows said at GRA’s quarterly meeting on June 3. “Commercialization was nowhere in our wheelhouse. It is the earliest, riskiest stage of investment.”

GRA is a public-private partnership aimed at promoting cutting-edge research at Georgia’s six research universities — Georgia Tech, Emory University, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Georgia Regents University and Clark Atlanta University. In addition to the presidents of each of those institutions, GRA’s board includes top business leaders from around the state.

Shows said VentureLab in its first 10 years had evaluated 900 university technologies and inventions with 256 receiving GRA commercialization grants totaling$17 million. Thirty-five companies received low-interest loans totaling $8.4 million.

GRA also analyzed why the unsuccessful startups failed. One of the major reasons was “management dysfunction” — a poor startup team chemistry or an incomplete skill set on the management team.

Show said that has prompted GRA to establish an “industry fellows program,” through which it will bring in experienced managers to help mentor management teams. Its 2014 fiscal year budget calls for $1.5 million in funding to go toward that program.

Adams and Cassidy tributes

The June 3 GRA meeting also was the last for UGA President Mike Adams, who is retiring June 30. He joined the board in 1997 and was a big believer in building Georgia’s research institutions, said Bill Linginfelter, a banker who is a past chair of GRA.

“Many of you around this table have become great friends of mine, even some Techies,” Adams joked about the rivalry between UGA and Tech. “I’m proud of GRA, and I think it’s an integral part of the future of this state.”

Adams said that during his tenure at UGA, research funding has tripled to $300 million; and he said similar stories could be told about Emory and Georgia Tech. The three Georgia institutions now mirror the research being done out of the Research Triangle in North Carolina.

Lastly, the board honored GRA President Mike Cassidy, who just celebrated his 20th anniversary with the organization. Cassidy, in turn, gave special thanks to developer Tom Cousins, one of GRA’s original founders and visionaries.

Private equity expansion

An Atlanta private equity veteran, David Crosland, has joined Birmingham, Ala.-based Harbert Private Equity. Crosland will be based out of Atlanta, and he will be expanding the private equity group in the Atlanta market.

Previously, Crosland was a founding partner of Atlanta Equity Investors, a middle market growth equity and buyout fund. Steve McGrath, who also was with Atlanta Equity Investors, is joining Crosland at Harbert’s Atlanta office.

“David knows this market and its submarkets extraordinarily well and has what it takes to increase our visibility and help us succeed in the region,” said Mike Luce, president and chief operating officer of Harbert Management Corp., an alternative asset management firm with about$3 billion in assets.

Crosland, who has 28 years experience in the private equity and investment banking business, also was a founding partner of Arcapita.

UNICEF’s Barron Segar off to N.Y.

Atlanta’s Barron Segar, a fixture with several local nonprofits, has accepted a major promotion with UNICEF and is moving to New York.

Segar has been with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in Atlanta since October 2000 as its Southeast regional director and then becoming vice president of regional fundraising working with six regional offices.

He has just been named UNICEF’s senior vice president of development overseeing a team of 65 people and responsible for the strategic direction and implementation of U.S. fundraising initiatives.

“Barron has established a nearly 15-year track record of outstanding fundraising achievements at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF,” said Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “His leadership has taken our regional offices to new heights, and we look forward to continued success in his new role.”

Segar said that during his time at UNICEF, he has “seen first-hand the obstacles that many children face every day just to survive,” and that he can’t think a more worthwhile endeavor than to work for the organization.

In addition to UNICEF, Segar also is a founding board member and corporate secretary of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and he has helped distribute more than $300 million in America and internationally.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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