Bruce Luehrs is back in business as a Philadelphia venture capitalist.
He says he wishes he had more competitors.
"We're an honest-to-God Philadelphia early-stage venture fund," Luehrs told me. A veteran of Princeton-based, pioneering Edison Ventures, Leuhrs just finished raising an $18 million Rittenhouse Ventures Fund II, including $2.5 million from state-funded InnovationPA and $1.5 million from state-backed Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP).
NEW: (Rittenhouse V.F. I is the still-active, 2008 fund f/k/a Emerald Stage 2 Ventures, which Luehrs started in 2008 with partner Sol RIchter, backing from Joe Besecker's Emerald Asset, $4 million from BFTP, and other state funds. Assets include Tabula Rasa, the $80 million (yearly sales), profitable, Moorestown medication-therapy manager that has filed for an IPO, and might richly reward the several million that Rittenhouse and other VCs put in.)
There were a dozen similar-sized funds in the region during the dot.com bubble, trying to recreate the "West Coast model," a community of shared risk and reward, with three to five wary partnerships plunging in together on deals.
Some -- Anthem, Zone and Keystone, among the early-stage funds, for example -- lost money and wound down. Others -- Ira Lubert's LLR, Mike DiPiano's NewSpring, Robert Adelson's Osage Partners -- have gotten so big they focus on larger firms outside the immediate Philadelphia area. "DiPiano and LLR are looking for people doing $10 million or $20 million in revenue. Which is wonderful," Luehrs said.
But there's a lack of backers of $1 million to $5 million firms, the best of which are apt to follow investors and talent to California or Boston. "We hang in there, trying to find to find those little software companies, healthcare IT, pharma IT and fin tech," Luehrs said. "Here in the trenches, where it's fraught with risk. And opportunity."
He's seen the cyclical local "frenzy about the next incubator, seed-stage, angel with $50,000 or $100,000, that's necessary but not sufficient to get another fund started," Luehrs told me. "We're series A guys. And we have a hard time figuring out who to put up a deal with. If you're an entrepeneur in Philadelphia you struggle to raise $3 million, $4 million, $5 million."
There are partners, like Ben du Pont's Yet2Ventures in Wilmington, with partners in New York and Boston. "They're a player in this space. one fo the few locally."
How about Osage's University Partners? "It's a national model, heavy on early-stage tech and investment rights. In 10 years we'll know if they are good at it."
Rittenhouse's early picks include Workplace Dynamics of Exton, which "barters ad time for revenue share, your company (Philadelphia Media) is a client. And GSI Health, they just moved into Mellon Bank Center. And Kynectiv, they do simulation training for physicians. Pharma pays to help them understand the molecule.