Don Burton honored for his contribution to Florida’s venture capital community

February 5, 2013

Last Thursday, January 31st, BPV Venture Partner Don Burton was honored by the Florida Venture Forum with its inaugural Champions Award in recognition of his pioneering work in establishing and growing the state’s venture capital industry.  Drew Graham, Co-Founder of Ballast Point Ventures, had the privilege of introducing Don at the Champions Award Dinner.  The text of his remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.

Introductory Remarks
Champion’s Award Dinner
Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
January 31, 2013

It is my distinct honor this evening to introduce Don Burton, and I am so pleased that the Florida Venture Forum has decided to honor him this evening with the inaugural Champion’s Awards for his outstanding contributions to the Florida venture capital community.

To know Don as well as I do is to know that he is not a man who has ever sought personal acclaim or public recognition of his accomplishments.  But those achievements and his contributions to venture capital in Florida and the Southeast speak for themselves and are well known to anyone who has been active in the community over the past thirty years.

By way of background, Don grew up in Macon, Georgia and graduated from Yale University.  He served as an officer in the United States Navy prior to graduating from Harvard Business School in 1971.  Don began his investing career as a Securities Analyst at Fidelity Management and Research Company in Boston.  However, Don was particularly interested in investing in private companies, so in 1973 he joined Fidelity’s venture capital subsidiary, Fidelity Venture Associates, which was one of just a handful of venture capital firms at a time when the industry was just beginning to gain its footing in Boston.

Don covered the Southeastern United States for Fidelity Ventures, which meant he made regular visits to Florida looking for opportunities for the firm.  And in 1979, he and his lovely wife Campbell (who is also with us this evening) made the bold decision to move to Tampa, Florida.  Though a number of his Boston colleagues were puzzled by his decision, Don had a strong desire to return to the Southeast and he recognized the immense opportunity the region offered for a venture capital firm based here.

Don founded The Burton Partnership in 1979 and South Atlantic Venture Funds in 1983.  Between 1983 and 2001, Don was the Managing Partner of four South Atlantic Funds, ranging in size from $18 million to $75 million, and invested in over 65 private growth companies in Florida, the Southeast and Texas.  The South Atlantic Funds generated a truly impressive 31% gross annualized return on all investments over that period and even more impressively a total gains-to-losses ratio of almost 5:1 which validated the South Atlantic strategy of achieving attractive returns while minimizing the risk of loss of capital.

The businesses Don backed, which included companies such as Telecom USA, Powertel, Knology, Regal Cinemas and Outback Steakhouse, generated billions of dollars in shareholder value and helped to fuel economic growth and entrepreneurial success in Florida and the Southeast.  More importantly for those of us here tonight, his success in helping to prove to the skeptics that the Southeast is an attractive market for investment helped to promote the growth of venture capital in our region, and his South Atlantic protégés went on to found several active Florida investment firms, including Antares Capital, Lovett-Miller, Banyan Mezzanine and Ballast Point Ventures.

After deciding in late 2000 not to raise a fifth fund at South Atlantic, Don focused his efforts on The Burton Partnership, which now has over $350 million in assets under management and invests in both private and public companies, and he also serves as a Venture Partner at Ballast Point Ventures.

I have had the privilege of working with Don for over 17 years.  During that time, I have admired his pioneering spirit and independent thinking and have witnessed firsthand the incredible work ethic, integrity and dedication that fueled his success.  But if I had to put my finger on the primary reason for his investment success, I would say that it was Don’s disciplined adherence to a core set of values and investment criteria that he knew would lead to success if implemented diligently.  Easy to say, but very hard to do.   His success is well-deserved, and tonight we honor Don for his transformative impact on the Florida venture capital community.  That will truly be a lasting and worthy legacy.

It is my pleasure to introduce my mentor and friend and a founding father of the Florida venture capital community – Don Burton.

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