Communities / Entrepreneurs / Events / Investing

Inside IMPACT’s invite-only investor dinner

Here's a taste of last week's swanky event at the Ritz-Carlton — the one night a year when Philly's tech scene gets suited up.

Upstairs at the Ritz-Carlton. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)
Temple professor Munir Mandviwalla wants us to write a story about Jonathan Brassington.

Brassington is the 40-year-old CEO of LiquidHub, a quiet tech giant based out in Wayne, Pa. They do digital integration, helping corporations like Comcast, Novartis and Independence Blue Cross use the latest enterprise software.

“It is a very cool Philly story of ‘working class, not overnight’ success,” Mandviwalla later emails us.

Brassington, who grew up in British Guyana, has a team of more than 2,000 (600 of which are in Wayne) and raised $53 million last year. He’s also a big Eagles fan. Eagles tight end (and Prime Stache owner) Brent Celek was an informal entrepreneur-in-residence at LiquidHub.

But Brassington is press-shy.

We’re at the invite-only investor dinner on the first night of IMPACT, PACT’s annual venture capital conference, and Mandviwalla is ushering us over to Brassington. The two are good friends. Mandviwalla, who’s here on Brassington’s invitation, runs Temple’s Institute for Business and IT. Brassington sits on Temple’s IT board.

Mandviwalla has already told us that Brassington will deflect any press attention.

So, when we pitch the idea to him, it’s not a surprise that he says, “Oh no, no, no, no, no.”

Jonathan Brassington at a Temple IT conference.

Jonathan Brassington at a Temple IT conference. (Photo by Joe Allegra)

“There are at least 20 people in here who are worthy of being profiled,” Brassington says. “I will help you seek them.”

He points to Sidecar CEO Andre Golsorkhi, who’s across the room in a muted plaid blazer, drinking a Miller Lite. “Have you written his story?” Brassington asks. (He’s on our list.)

The IMPACT investor dinner is kind of a misnomer, as there are founders, lawyers and at least one Temple professor milling about in a thickly carpeted room on the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton on South Broad Street.

PACT invited all their speakers to the dinner — that’s why we got the exclusive invite (this reporter moderated a panel of Philly investors). We weren’t sure what to expect, maybe a seated affair? But it’s more like a smaller version of IMPACT’s closing gala. Servers zip around with “Philadelphia cheesesteak croquettes” and mini crab cakes. There’s an open bar and a carving table, where an older black man with a floppy white chef’s hat slices turkey, pulling the skin off and tossing it away behind the table.
Next to Brassington, we run into Osage Venture Partners managing partner Nate Lentz. (Later that week the venture firm announced via SEC filing that it was in the middle of raising a $90 million fund.) His wife, Suzanne Lentz, is the VP of Marketing at LiquidHub, we find out. The pair met out in San Francisco, but not in the tech scene — at a bar playing pool.

“Is she good?” we ask.

“Yeah, but I beat her,” he says, grinning.

But, he concedes, when they’d play on a team, she’d often carry them. It makes sense, he says: “She’s an engineer. I’m a history major.” Angles, you know?

Nate has a very all-American look, broad-shouldered and blond, like maybe in another life he’d be a farmer or a rancher. Or maybe we just think that because he told us he was born in Kansas and later moved to Ohio as a kid.

The Lentzes moved to Philly in 2002 so Nate could take a job at legendary Philly tech company VerticalNet, shortly after its stock plummeted when the bubble burst. (Nate was hired as president and CEO but he doesn’t tell us that when we talk. We obviously should have asked him what it was like to helm the company during that period. Next time.) He thought it’d be a temporary thing, the move to Philadelphia, but they ended up liking it so much that they settled here. He and his wife live in Chestnut Hill with their three children.

From IMPACT's email to attendees: "(no ties required)."

From IMPACT’s email to attendees. (Screenshot)

The crowd at the dinner is largely men and most are suited up, even though PACT changed its dress code to business casual for the first time this year. One man wears a Phillies cap, though.

We make our way over to RJMetrics’ CEO Bob Moore, who’s speaking on a panel the following day, and Golsorkhi of Sidecar.

(One of Golsorkhi’s investors, Kynetic CEO Michael Rubin, was the main event of the day’s programming.) The pair is trading war stories about moving offices, talking about things like “TI” — tenant improvement allowance, or how much a building owner will spend to, essentially, make your office cool.

Sidecar's office in Center City.

Sidecar’s office in Center City. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

Moore just got a whole new floor for his sales and marketing team. Sidecar’s Golsorkhi stays quiet to us about any relocation efforts but later says his team is doubling. They currently have a cavernous office space at 13th and Sansom.

When Golsorkhi leaves, we start talking about voting. It was election day, after all.

Moore’s a big Andrew Stober fan. (Stober is the city transportation staffer who ran for City Council as an independent. He ended up losing.) That’s because, when Moore moved into the Widener Building on Chestnut Street, he made all sorts of calls to city government trying to see if the city would install more bike parking near his office. Stober was the only person who actually gave him a firm no — everyone else gave him the runaround. Moore respected that.

Now he rides an Indego bike share to and from work, so it’s no problem. But not tonight, he says, finishing his glass of red wine. He’s taking an Uber.

Companies: LiquidHub / Osage Partners / PACT / RJMetrics / Sidecar

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