Less than a year-and-a-half after launching a middle-market investment bank, James Cassel and Scott Salpeter are entering the venture capital advisory business. In October, Miami's Cassel Salpeter & Co. LLC hired Judit Fabian as a director to help companies raise first- and second-round venture capital.
"There is nobody down here that does this," says Cassel, 56, the firm's chairman and co-founder. Florida's aging retiree population is fertile ground for upstart biotech, medical equipment and healthcare IT companies, and establishing early relationships with these young ventures will allow Cassel Salpeter to sell them investment banking services as they grow and mature, adds Fabian.
A native of Hungary, Fabian, 38, has been in and around startups her entire career. She came to the U.S. in 1991 as a high school exchange student in Decorah, Iowa, and later enrolled at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. After transferring to Mount Vernon College for Women in Washington and earning her master's degree at American University in 1998, Fabian became an independent consultant to IT and Internet companies in McLean, Va., helping them prepare financial projections and analyze their business models as they sought funding.
In 2000 Fabian moved to New York to work for Nextera Enterprises Inc., which provided IT services to financial services companies and incubated early-stage IT companies. She then started a consulting firm, Global Origo, which advised early-stage IT companies seeking to expand into Eastern Europe. During that time, Fabian traveled frequently to Hungary and reconnected with her culture. "The traditional art in Hungary was beautiful," she notes. So, in 2004, eager for a more family-friendly, work-at-home lifestyle, she launched Culturally Chic, a textile line specializing in old-world Hungarian designs.
After moving to Miami in 2007, Fabian shuttered Culturally Chic in 2010 and sought to return to startup company consulting. "I first looked around at the tech market, but it is a little limited in Miami, so I started to expand my research into other industries." That's when she met Brent Friedman, a Miami lawyer who specializes in healthcare information technology transactions and is a friend of Cassel.
Friedman introduced Fabian to Cassel, and the two discussed opportunities to tap into venture capital advisory. Cassel Salpeter's new business was born. The firm was founded in 2010 after Cassel and Salpeter left Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services Inc., which had acquired their former midmarket bank, Capitalink LC, for $5 million in 2006.
Cassel says one challenge of launching a startup advisory business in Miami is that most established VC investors are located in Silicon Valley, Boston or New York and prefer to be geographically close to their investments. But venture financing is on the rise in Florida. Venture financing in the state totaled nearly $192 million in the first half of 2011, compared with about $150 million a year ago, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP's MoneyTree report. Venture capitalists are "taking notice of the Florida medical industry," Fabian says.