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Economic Development Features

David Freschman a pioneer of Delaware’s modern early-stage investor community

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Sam Waltz

Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

“I knew David Freschman when he was just an accountant.”

That’s a comment I’d repeated likely 100 times over during the two decades-plus that I’d known David Freschman until his tragic passing way too young on March 17, 2015, from pancreatic cancer at age 52.

Born in 1962, the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor Morris Freschman and his wife Rachael, the two of who later operated small businesses in Delaware, David Freschman graduated Brandywine High School. He earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting from the University of Delaware’s Lerner College of Business and Economics in 1984, and later completed a master’s in business administration from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore in 2001.

Let me let you in the joke, rather than wait.

David Freschman never was “just an accountant,” no disrespect intended to the accountants among our readers and my friends.

“David joined accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 1984 and worked in the Philadelphia office. He soon realized that he didn’t want to audit big companies and positioned himself for recruitment into its enterprise division, dealing with high-growth, privately held businesses,” recalled his widow Robin Jacobs Freschman recently.

“In 1989, he moved to McBride Shopa & Co., a Greenville-based firm later acquired by BDO, where he worked for Tom Shopa and advised businesses on financial practices, mergers and acquisitions, capital structures and litigation. He remained there until January 1996,” said his widow.

That was about the time I met David, in the 1990-92 period. I still worked for the DuPont Co., and David and I served together on the board of a nascent Delaware not-for-profit organization, the Delaware Entrepreneurs Forum.

Among the six to eight of us in those board meetings, David clearly was in a class by himself among those interested in and championing early-stage investing to promote emerging technology, financial services and other ventures in entrepreneurship. And some pretty savvy early-stage business people (this writer excluded) were among those, including Patrick Foley of DuPont and Terry Collison of Blue Rock Capital.

David’s early vision – which ultimately made him, in my view, Delaware’s modern pioneer of early-stage investing – was for both a fund-driven and an event-driven approach that brought together entrepreneurs who needed early-stage capital and those with the capital and the risk tolerance to partner up.

Given the growth of family-founded small businesses into mega-companies in Delaware, like the DuPont Co., W.L. Gore, Rodel, Burris Logistics and many others, Delaware undoubtedly had “angels” and early-stage investors long before David Freschman even was born.

Who those may have been likely is lost in history, but that’s really a good question for David Cole and Joan Hoge-North at the Hagley Museum and Library, official repository of so much of Delaware’s economic history. Such scholars may know the insights not widely known today by Delaware’s business and civic leaders.

Visionaries like David Freschman saw that the successful launch of early-stage companies with the prospect of growing into the next DuPont, Gore, Rodel or Burris can be “the rising tide that floats all ships,” the X-factor in economic development and growth that create the jobs and economic health that makes Delaware a fertile place for our children and grandchildren to live, work, play, survive and thrive.

David was not without his limitations, as a larger-than-life character. I tell friends who didn’t know David that next to him, David made me look quiet, shy, reticent, even introspective. Success such as David’s is indeed driven by ego and a Type-A personality.

He created a number of funds, ultimately moving beyond Delaware, simply because he did not find sufficient “deal flow” in Delaware for the capital he’d raised. The Delaware Innovation Fund started with a $3 million commitment from the state, that David extracted from Gov. Tom Carper. He added a number of other investors to bring it to about $10 million.

When David set up shop about 1995, he toyed with the idea of subletting space from me in my Kennett Pike office, before establishing the DIF on the lower level below Einstein’s Bagels in Powder Mill Square. Subsequently he moved it to Mill Road in Wilmington, and then to the Independence Mall on Concord Pike.

As he grew, he set up fashion industry fund FashInvest, with a focus on the New York market, and the fund today is currently run by his widow.

With 20 years under its belt, the DIF now is “unwinding” its investments, paying off its investors, and it’s recast itself as a not-for-profit governed by a self-perpetuating board. Even though the nonprofit is public, fund managers say its financials are not.

David will be remembered by the current generation, and perhaps as a legend by the next, before he’s lost to the history of the region. But, today, as we write elsewhere in this paper, David’s legacy cannot be overstated or overlooked.

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