David Freschman, the gravelly-voiced investor and prominent Delaware tech startup champion, died yesterday, March 17, according to a family spokeswoman. The cause of death was related to pancreatic cancer, said his rabbi. He was 52.
His daughter, Samara Freschman, posted this on her public Facebook feed:
You were my cheerleader, my role model, an amazing businessman, and most importantly a fighter. You are forever my best friend and I’m forever your little girl. I know you are out of pain now and I hope you are with Grandpa drinking beers and smoking Cubans by the shore. I love you more than you know and I promise to make you proud.
Freschman is likely best known as a founder of Early Stage East, an angel venture fair that started in the dot-com frenzy of 1998 and has endured, spawning an array of investor events. But he has no shortage of related projects aimed at growing deal flow and connections throughout the East Coast from his base in Delaware. He was a managing partner of Innovation Ventures and the Delaware Innovation Fund. In 2009 he founded FashInvest, a news resource for the intersection of fashion and technology that he proudly promoted.
“It’s tragic. He was vibrant,” said Gov. Jack Markell, who first met Freschman 15 years ago. “He was a go-to guy for the entrepreneurial community in Delaware and had contacts around the country.”
Ever a networker, in recent months Freschman was still actively pursuing partnerships and event expansion — discussing co-branded events with Technical.ly and this reporter.
I will miss you @DJFresch. Your infectious spirit & support of entrepreneurship will be carried on by many. #netDE @startitupDE
— 😷jabrilliant (@jabrilliant) March 17, 2015
“David was an example to us all on how to wear your enthusiasm on your sleeve and do it with conviction and a sense of humor,” said Jon Brilliant, an early-stage company adviser who had known Freschman for 22 years. Brilliant has in some ways followed Freschman, becoming one of Delaware’s most familiar voices for tech entrepreneurship.
Today I lost my good friend David Freschman @DJFresch to cancer. Kind, generous, smart, fun & tough as nails. I miss you man….
— Joe Venture Capital (@fundingpost) March 17, 2015
In the fall, Freschman, like Brilliant and many others, took the stage at the Queen for Tech2Gether, a two-day conference on innovation in Wilmington organized by incubator space 1313 Innovation. The incubator space and the event were part of a new wave of energy around tech in Delaware but many familiar faces, including Freschman were there for it.
Indeed, he was known for his commitment to the regional tech community even after its post dot-com fizzle in the early 2000s. Freschman “stayed with it through some of its most challenging years,” said MentorTech Ventures Managing Director Brett Topche.
He was an early proponent of connecting the mid-Atlantic corridor, organizing events and networking in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, in addition to Delaware.
“He made Delaware a place to go for venture, not just a place for incorporation. He made it real,” said Keli Whitlock, the co-chair of the venture capital group at Duane Morris in Baltimore. She first got to know him by helping to organize BioLife Tech, a conference that launched in 2000. “He was going forth between Delaware and Baltimore and elsewhere along the mid-Atlantic and elsewhere. He inspired a lot of people to do similar things.”
“He would do anything to help out people who wanted to start a business,” she added.
Freschman was known to be challenging and forceful, proud of the access he had developed in the tech industry. One person who knew him well said, “while he was not universally loved … I know he was universally respected.”
“He didn’t have a shy bone in his body,” said Gov. Markell. “It didn’t matter that I was Governor, he’d walk right into my office and lay it out there. He’d tell me, ‘Here are the things you’re doing right and here’s what you need to do better.’ But you knew he had the best intentions.”
“He was one of early leaders,” Markell said of Freschman’s long presence in Delaware’s tech entrepreneurship community since the 1990s. “It’s sad to know he won’t get to see it go to the next level, but when it does … he’ll be one of the most important people we have to thank.”
Freschman received his undergraduate accounting degree from the University of Delaware in 1984 and an MBA from Loyola College of Maryland in 2001.
A funeral service will be held at Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington tomorrow, Thursday, March 19, at 1:00 p.m. Interment will be at nearby Beth Emeth Memorial Park.
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