OMERS grows venture team

OMERS Ventures, which launched in October, has hired Howard Gwin to help target early stage and growth investments in the North American media, technology and telecom companies.

OMERS Ventures, the recently launched venture capital arm of The Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System, has hired Howard Gwin as managing director. Gwin will help lead the retirement system’s new strategy of direct venture investments in North American companies.

Gwin started at the retirement system on Monday, according to OMERS Ventures chief executive officer John Ruffolo. Gwin will be responsible for identifying partnership and financing opportunities in the North American technology, media and telecommunications sectors.

“What [OMERS] has done is not just take a group of private equity people and repurpose them for venture, they have also found a group of venture people to build a team,” Gwin told Private Equity International.

He will be joined by four other managing directors that have yet to be announced, Ruffolo said.

Prior to joining OMERS, Gwin was a managing director at Bridgescale Partners, where he participated in the firm’s attempt to launch a US/Canada venture fund with former members of Edgestone Venture Capital, Gwin said. He left the firm in September.

Howard Gwin

“I took Howard as a result of the firm deciding not to launch a cross-border fund … due to the tough fundraising environment. They weren't going to launch that fund and I plucked Howard away,” Ruffolo said.

In addition to Bridgescale, Gwin was also the president of Solect Technology Group, an IP billing and services company. He has also worked in senior roles at IBM and Xerox. He has been on the boards of several technology companies, including Vision Critical, Coveo and Cirba.

OMERS Ventures, which launched in October, will target initial seed round investments between $500,000 and $2 million, as well as a larger growth capital investments of up to $30 million.

The fund has already received a $180 million allocation from the pension and completed its first investment in October. The fund participated in a Series A financing, led by Charles River Ventures, that raised $5 million for web-accounting company Wave Accounting.

In addition to OMERS Ventures, the $53 billion retirement system also operates a private equity portfolio that recorded a 22.2 percent return in 2010. OMERS Private Equity has almost completely stopped committing to external funds, choosing direct investments as the best way to generate returns.

In July, the team sealed its first European takeover by purchasing ship servicing company in a deal worth $520 million.