2010 may not be the perfect year for private equity investing in healthcare, but it sure beats 2009.
That was the consensus among four industry panelists at an annual forum hosted Tuesday evening by BioEnterprise, the Cleveland nonprofit economic development group that focuses on growing the region’s biomedical industry.
A year ago, the U.S. economy was mired in a slump, credit markets were frozen to small businesses, and there was lots of industry uncertainty over what shape health reform would take — or if a federal healthcare overhaul would happen. Now, the economy’s started to improve a bit, credit markets have begun to thaw, and uncertainty over health reform’s shape has given way to uncertainty about the law’s impact once many of its provisions take effect in 2014.
Again, nobody said today’s investment climate is perfect, but most industry insiders are probably sleeping a little easier than last year.
For example, the economic downturn created a “pent-up” demand in private equity that has helped yield both a higher volume and better quality of deals, said Joseph Ibrahim, a principal with Cleveland-based PE firm Riverside Co.
Doug Schillinger, managing director of Utah-based DW Healthcare Partners, said he’s been surprised by how many high-quality potential deals come across his desk the year. More challenging than finding investment is finding solid senior management talent to substantially grow those companies, he said.
Despite the positive talk and general sense of optimism — which is no doubt a welcome change for most healthcare companies — the highlight of the program came from some brief introductory comments by Greg Gale, a lawyer with Cleveland law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, one of the event’s sponsors.
After warning the crowd that he’s a terrible public speaker, Gale cast serious doubt on that claim by telling a joke: “Do you know the difference between a venture capitalist and a proctologist?"
“Eventually, the proctologist takes his finger out.”
Perhaps Gale will moderate next year’s BioEnterprise forum and the mood will be even lighter.