When Michael DiPiano and his band of business veterans set up NewSpring Capital in 1999 to fund young and expanding companies in software and other sectors, they formed a small addition to what was then a budding venture investment scene, here in the town where the modern computer (ENIAC) was built.
Nineteen years later, DiPiano is a leading light in a region where venture and follow-on investment remains a fraction of Silicon Valley's scale, or Boston's. NewSpring has backed firms in much of the U.S. — though it avoids busy Silicon Valley — but it still does a disproportionate share of its deals in the Philly area, when it can find them.
So it's about time that PACT, the Philadelphia Association for Capital and Technology, has named DiPiano its 2018 Legend Award Nominee for Lifetime Achievement.
NewSpring has raised $1.7 billion in client money, invested over $1 billion so far in more than 140 companies and also cashed out more than $1 billion (one of the most successful deals included Quintic in Radnor, backed by $60 million from NewSpring and other largely local investors, and bought by France's Dassault for $335 million in 2014.)
NewSpring employs nearly 50 in Radnor and at satellite offices in the Baltimore-Washington, Chicago, and New York areas. The firm doesn't say how well its clients have done (and it hasn't run a lot of public money, so that's not so easy to track.)
Why is NewSpring still here when Keystone, Technology Leaders, and other contemporaries are gone or in runoff mode? In a 2015 interview, DiPiano, a Penn State (and NYU-MBA) grad who worked for Chemical, Lehman, Baxter Healthcare, and Safeguard Scientifics before starting NewSpring, told me how East Coast VCs tend to be less bold and "friendly" in their initial investments — but grittier and more persistent in backing firms, sectors, and founders when they do commit.
"When nobody was willing to back our first company, Ecount, Mike took a chance," says Matt Gillin, who went on to sell Ecount at a fat profit to Citigroup. Gillin now heads Relay Networks, the Radnor secure-messaging developer, which counts NewSpring as a backer alongside that larger, Philly-based but mostly California- and New York-focused venture capital firm, FirstRound Capital. (Josh Kopelman, FirstRound Capital's founder, is board chairman of Philadelphia Media Network, which owns the Inquirer.)
DiPiano's patient support "greatly improved our chances," Gillin adds. "He's smart. He's active. He's got real-world entrepreneurial experience. He is a man of his word. And I can't think of anyone who is better in a foxhole" when markets are crashing, customers are canceling orders, and investors can get panicky.
PACT picked DiPiano not just because he's made clients richer, but also because he's managed to build "a sustainable, scalable private equity firm that will continue to thrive long after he departs," PACT chief executive Dean Miller told me. In a business environment filled with stars and large personalities, "this is not easy to do."
DiPiano hired carefully, gave his lieutenants opportunity "to build the partnership and engage others to help lead," built lasting relationships with serial founders, and "diversified his approach," investing in multiple sectors, markets, and stages, Miller added. "He is always quick to point to others for his success — the mark of a real leader." And unlike some successful investors, DiPiano "is also not afraid to give a lot of credit to luck."