From offices in Omaha and Silicon Valley, Stephen George took Jeff Skoll’s fortune and helped create a family office that invested like a private-equity firm, taking bets on technology, healthcare and clean energy.
Last year George walked away from managing billions for EBay Inc.’s first full-time employee to set up his own firm, Panorama Point Partnership LP, named after the highest point in Nebraska. He’s wagering he can attract enough capital from the wealthy at a time when some family offices -- money managers for the world’s richest individuals -- are shunning third-party funds altogether in favor of direct investments.
“I like shifting structures,” George, 46, said in an interview in his office, which is lined with photographs of icebergs. “It’s time for the next generation of private- investment models.”
George, who oversaw $5 billion as chief investment officer of Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group, raised more than $80 million in the last six months from investors including Christoph Henkel, whose family founded German chemical-products maker Henkel AG. He is seeking as much as $500 million for the fund, which offers clients three different options to allocate money.
“It’s tough to be a new private-equity fund these days unless you have a verifiable track record and good story,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “Smaller funds are having a tougher time raising money.”
Panorama investors can choose among three types of private deals: loans to mid-sized companies, purchases of family-owned businesses or stakes in technology firms poised to go public. Each category has a three-year investment period when capital can be called, compared with funds that usually require five years. They can decrease, increase or reallocate future investments annually by selecting technology one year and private debt the next.
Current investments include a stake in Addepar, a Mountain View, California-based financial-software firm, and the acquisition of a Midwest ambulance company set to close in the third quarter, George said.
Fundraising for new private-equity firms hasn’t been easy as investors cut back on the number of managers they work with, putting more money into the largest funds such as those run by Blackstone Group LP and Carlyle Group LP, said Gordon. Succeeding with a small capital base such as $80 million to start is even more challenging if fees are lower, he said.