Florida Venture Forum Adds Eight New Members To Its Board Of Directors


The Florida Venture Forum, a statewide support organization for equity investors and entrepreneurs, today announced eight new appointments to its Board of Directors.

The new Board members are: Ryan Cortner of Clearwell Group, Frank DiBello of Space Florida, Carl Erhardt of Morris Manning & Martin, Jacqueline Hodes of DLA Piper, Ralph Montgomery of FourBridges Capital, Nayef Perry of Hamilton Lane, and Benoit Wirz of the John S and James L Knight Foundation.

The Florida Venture Forum, established in 1984, is known as the leading entrepreneurial networking group in Florida that provides companies with managerial assistance and identifies sources of venture capital. To date, the organization has helped Florida-based companies attract more than $3 billion of venture capital investment. Florida Venture Forum Board members work to promote the organization’s mission to help entrepreneurs obtain funding through education, strategic partnerships, and networking opportunities.

Ryan Cortner is a Principal at Clearwell Group, a family office investment advisory business based in Tampa, Florida. Prior to joining Clearwell Group, Mr. Cortner was Vice President with Westshore Capital Partners where he was responsible for sourcing and analysis of investment opportunities, managing prospects through closing, and monitoring portfolio companies for owner recapitalizations, family succession recapitalizations, management buyouts, management buy-ins, and industry consolidations.

Prior to joining Westshore Capital Partners, Mr. Cortner was Manager in the New York office of PricewaterhouseCoopers' Transaction Services Group. During his tenure at PwC, Mr. Cortner's work focused on financial due diligence, strategic assessments, and corporate carve-out transactions. While with PwC, he advised on over 75 public and private transactions ranging in size from $5 million to $5 billion. His industry experience includes manufacturing, business-to-business services, media and entertainment, technology, transportation, security, and consumer and industrial products among others. He holds both a Masters of Accounting with a concentration in Systems and a Bachelor of Accounting with Honors from the University of Florida. In addition to his formal education, he is a Certified Public Accountant and holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation.

Frank DiBello, Space Florida President and CEO, was selected in May 2009 to lead Space Florida, which serves as the single point of contact for aerospace-related economic development for the State of Florida. In this position, Mr. DiBello develops and executes programs designed to attract, retain, and grow aerospace business across the state. Additionally, Mr. DiBello focuses on Florida aerospace workforce retention and international partnership development.

DiBello holds more than 40 years of direct aerospace and defense industry-related experience. He was co-founder of Aerospace Capital Partners, an infrastructure investment fund focusing on aerospace, technology and telecommunications initiatives. He also served as the president and CEO of a strategic advisory and investment banking firm serving the aerospace and high-technology industries, and was president/CEO of Florida’s Aerospace Finance Corporation, established by the Florida Legislature to assist financing the needs of new and established companies applying aerospace technologies to space, aviation and defense markets.

In addition, Mr. DiBello was the founder and managing partner of KPMG Peat Marwick’s Commercial Space and Advanced Technologies Practice and managed the firms Aerospace Industry Practice for more than 15 years. Over the course of his career, DiBello was appointed by NASA and the Department of Defense to serve on a number of critical space commissions and committees. He is also a frequent industry speaker and advocate.

In 1985, DiBello received the Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor, for his work as president of the United Services Organization (USO). He is also the founder of the Space Business Roundtable in Washington D.C. Mr. DiBello taught at the Defense Systems Management College and International Space University. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Villanova University and completed graduate study work at American University and George Washington University.

Carl J. Erhardt is a Partner in the Corporate Practice at Morris Manning & Martin, based in Atlanta. Mr. Erhardt practices in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, private and public finance transactions, private equity transactions, venture capital, strategic investments, joint ventures, recapitalizations, and general corporate law. Mr. Erhardt’s practice covers a wide variety of industries, including information technology, telecommunications, real estate, manufacturing, transportation and chemical. Additionally, Mr. Erhardt is co-head of the International Practice Group, and has extensive cross-border experience. Mr. Erhardt also advises mergers and acquisitions clients in connection with antitrust and competition law matters. He is fluent in Spanish, and earned his is a graduate of Stanford University School of Law and B.S. and B.A. degrees from the University of Maryland/University of London.

Jacqueline Hodes is a partner in the Miami office of DLA Piper. Jackie focuses her practice on complex domestic global transactions for strategic buyers and sellers, equity fund sponsors and family offices. In addition, she advises portfolio companies in connection with add-on acquisitions and general corporate matters. Jackie also represents early stage companies in corporate transactions, corporate governance, equity compensation and general day-to-day legal matters. Jackie handles transactions across a broad range of industries, with a particular focus on health care, life sciences, health insurance and transportation and logistics. Jackie is the Hiring Partner for DLA Piper in Miami. She earned her J.D. degree from the University of Miami School of Law, and a B.B.A degree from Florida International University.

Ralph Montgomery, a veteran investment banker, is a managing director at FourBridges Capital Advisors, based in Memphis. Having specialized in working with middle market companies for the majority of his career, Ralph understands the value of a good coach to lead families and entrepreneurs through what are often life-altering business decisions. At FourBridges, a regional investment banking firm serving the Southeast, Ralph and his partners advise business owners on transactions like selling and buying companies, and borrowing and raising capital. The team draws on its members' expertise in investment banking and experience as C‐level executives.

Prior to FourBridges, Ralph worked at SunTrust Robinson-Humphrey and Houlihan Lokey. He earned his MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and bachelor’s degree from James Madison University.

Nayef Perry is a Vice President on Hamilton Lane’s Co-investment Team, based in the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale office, where he is primarily focused on the activities of the Florida Growth Fund and is responsible for leading the sourcing, due diligence, execution and portfolio management of direct investment opportunities on behalf of the fund. Prior to joining Hamilton Lane in 2013, Nayef was a Vice President in the Leveraged Finance group of GE Capital in New York City. Previously, he held management consulting roles with Booz & Company and with the Corporate Executive Board. Nayef received an M.B.A. from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and a B.A. in International Affairs from The George Washington University.

Rick Wassel is an Executive Director for Florida Hospital and the Managing Director for IQ Orlando, a new corporate partnership that's leading the growth of Florida's life science and health care cluster. With more than 2,500 beds, the ten-hospital system serves the Central Florida community and is the largest subsidiary of Adventist Health System in the country. Florida Hospital admits more patients annually than any other hospital in the U.S. and is the largest provider of Medicare services.

Mr. Wassel has been with Florida Hospital for 19 years and has served in various leadership capacities during that time, with special emphasis in new ventures, strategy, and corporate development roles. He was instrumental in the development and successful launch of the Florida Hospital Celebration Health Medical Group and Florida Hospital Celebration Health, a state-of-the-future hospital that opened in 1998 in Walt Disney's community of Celebration. He also developed Florida Hospital's first national executive health program in 1999 which now serves the senior executive teams of Fortune 500 companies fund.

Benoit Wirz is Director of Venture Investments at the John S and James L Knight Foundation. He manages the Knight Enterprise Fund, a venture fund investing in early stage startups that improve access to quality, useful information which he helped launch in 2012. The fund has invested in 50+ companies including consumer media (Mic, Gimlet, Upworthy), enterprise publishing tools (CrowdTangle, Umbel, Tapad), peer-to-peer information platforms (CrowdMed, Change.Org) and govtech/edtech (Nearpod, Newsela, PublicStuff). Ben also helps guide the strategy for Knight Foundation’s charitable initiative fostering a stronger startup ecosystem in Miami.

Prior to joining Knight, Ben was a partner with US Global, where he invested in and developed energy, manufacturing and technology companies. He was also briefly a project finance analyst with Jefferies & Company, an investment bank, and a reporter covering the US Congress, Monica Lewinsky and the MRTA hostage crisis for Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s leading daily newspaper. Ben is a Kauffman Fellow and earned a BA and MA from Stanford University and an MBA from INSEAD.

The Florida Venture Forum is Florida’s largest and most prestigious statewide support organization for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, helping emerging growth companies come together with sources of capital from across the country. The organization provides programs statewide throughout the year in addition to hosting the Florida Venture Capital Conference, the Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition and the Early Stage Conference. For more information, visit http://www.flventure.org.

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