Ian J. Berg, 68, of Cherry Hill, a financial-services entrepreneur who founded a business-funded college scholarship program for Camden youths, died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
For the last decade, Mr. Berg had been a managing partner of Eastern Technology Fund in West Conshohocken. He previously was president of Copelco Corp., a firm that leased business machines, which he started in 1972 in the basement of his home.
"Ian was a visionary," his wife, Lee Robbins Berg, said. Interest rates were very high at the time, and nobody wanted to buy anything, she said. He convinced companies that they could lease what they needed. He was "honorable and meticulous" in his business dealings, she said.
Copelco expanded to become a financial-services company with $5 billion in assets and 1,600 employees, generating more than $500 million in revenue, according to the firm. It was sold to Citicorp in 2000.
In 1999, Mr. Berg cofounded Eastern Technology Fund with Wayne D. Kimmel.
"Ian brought a wealth of operational experience to ETF's portfolio companies. He helped make ETF one of the top-performing venture capital funds in the United States. He was known as practical, realistic, and direct" by those with whom he had personal and professional relationships, Kimmel said.
Mr. Berg was like a camp counselor, encouraging his young staff members, whom he called his "pups," to come to him with ideas, his wife said.
He liked to apply their raw enthusiasm to a business model. If their initial plan didn't work, he shared with them his motto, "Life is all about Plan B," she said.
Mr. Berg was an advocate for education. In 1994, while at Copelco, he initiated an I Have a Dream Foundation program in Camden. The foundation helps businesses fund college tuition for disadvantaged students. Mr. Berg committed his company to provide future college scholarships to fifth graders at Bonsall Elementary School, and organized tutoring, counseling, and enrichment opportunities to prepare the students for academic careers.
In an Inquirer interview in 1997, he said, "These kids are willing to keep working hard when they can look around and see despair. At the same time, if they want to live like Michael Jordan or a rock star, they just have to go sell drugs. The temptation to go the other way is so great. It takes a very strong kid not to succumb."
Mr. Berg was past chairman of the Philadelphia Young Presidents' Organization and the Philadelphia Presidents' Organization. He served on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Center for the Advancement and Study of Entrepreneurship at Temple University, the Institute for Art in Education, the Jewish Federation Senior Housing of Southern New Jersey, and the Coriell Institute for Medical Research.
He had been treasurer of the board of the Wistar Institute, the nonprofit biomedical research institute, since 1997. He supported Wistar's cancer-cell research, and attended board meetings even while fighting his disease.
"Ian cared deeply about the Wistar Institute and its mission, and he was incredibly generous with his time. The institute benefited tremendously from his wisdom and judgment over the years," said the organization's president, Russel E. Kaufman.
Mr. Berg graduated from Overbrook High School and was inducted into the school's hall of fame. He earned a bachelor's degree in commerce and engineering from Drexel University.
Before starting his own company, he was an executive for AT&T, International Business Machines Corp., and Business Management Data Corp.
Mr. Berg was a frequent contributor to industry publications and lectured at Drexel University's LeBow College of Business.
He and his wife, who were college sweethearts, married in 1964. "He was a great husband, father, and grandfather, and was very playful," she said.
He skied with his children, and traveled to France, England, and Switzerland with them when they were young because he wanted them to learn about the world, his wife said.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Berg is survived by a daughter, Lisa Jacobs; sons Jeffrey and Andrew; a sister; and six grandchildren.
A funeral will be at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow at Platt Memorial Chapel, 2001 Berlin Rd., Cherry Hill. Friends may call after 11:30 a.m.
Donations may be made to New York Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Robert Fine Research Fund, 650 W. 168th St., New York, N.Y. 10032.