George Emont

By Kent Oyler, OPM Entrepreneurial Services

It’s all too rare that you hear the words “nice guy” uttered in the same breath as “Venture Capitalist.”

The stereotype is quite different. Perhaps that’s a vestige typecast of VCs – the last high-T, free-market gladiators – yet not an inevitability.

Exhibit one, the late George Emont.

George died suddenly last week, ripping a black hole in the regional VC community. Adding insult to injury, George died at 55, far before his time. His passing leaves not only that cosmic gap in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, but a wonderful wife and two grown children of whom he was intensely proud.

Beyond his wily humor and unflinching intelligence George fronted a rare and selfless drive to deliver on both investor value and founder’s dreams.

Not that he picked the easiest playing field, medical devices and drugs, nor the most compliant entrepreneurs, MDs and PHDs.

But George had the good humor and patience to power through to a visionary and inevitable future where biotech flourishes throughout the Ohio Valley.

George and I met at least a dozen years ago. He was fresh out of Humana and I was collecting $1 per year from the Mayor. We both recognized the need to enhance the local pools of health science venture capital.

Briefly, we pondered starting an early-stage fund together, until I realized I was neither smart nor tough enough for a VC gig.

George, however, was.

With leadership from the Mayor and the corporate community, we raised $11.5 million for Cincinnati-based Triathlon Medical Ventures, which set up shop in Louisville and hired George as their local managing partner.

Somehow George convinced them he had enough spare time to run the $5 million Kentucky Seed Capital Fund on the side, also raised from local investors and dedicated to seed-stage life science investing.

As savvy and shrewd as he was, George was always “breaking nice.” If a company was under fire, he would graciously take a bullet and serve himself up as interim CEO and then help guide it to safety.

Credit George for the success of the Kentucky Seed Fund (as measured by low portfolio mortality). Then-Mayor Jerry Abramson was promised that the next Humana could arise from a company backed by the Triathlon or the Kentucky Seed Fund, and thanks to George, it may yet happen.

I’m not so sure how to properly honor George for his years of hard work across this region; perhaps an award named in his honor.

However that plays out, it should not be lost that George Emont was a quiet giant in our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

He showed up.

He funded deals.

He mentored and coached.

He showed integrity.

He made things happen.

And yeah, he really was a nice-guy VC.

Thank you George, and Godspeed on your next assignment.

About Kent Oyler: Kent Oyler is founder and CEO of OPM Entrepreneurial Services, Inc. Oyler has – so far – 18 distinct business ventures under his belt. He received business and MBA degrees from the University of Louisville.