Seeking Profits and Peace

The San Francisco Examiner wrote an article profiling my business and philanthropic activities that appeared in the print edition of the paper on September 13, 2005.  I have copied it below:

Seeking profits and peace

By Tamara Grippi
Staff Writer
Published: Monday, September 12, 2005 10:04 PM PDT

Pascal Levensohn was drawn to the intense world of venture capital because he knew that he had much to offer growing, young companies.

"I’m passionate about the things I do," Levensohn said. "What I love about venture capital, is that I can have a really big impact on companies."

The veteran investor, who founded San Francisco’s Levensohn Venture Partners in 1996, also has discovered he can make a difference on the world stage. He serves on the North American Board of Directors of Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, which has created an innovative education model with bilingual schools teaching Arab and Jewish children side-by-side.

What do venture capital investing and educational efforts aimed at peace have in common? Plenty, according to Levensohn, whose firm invests in the semiconductor, enterprise software and communications technology sectors.

In fact, serving as a director on an international peace organization is the "ultimate board challenge" for Levensohn. The work is familiar ground.

"How do you get motivated people to come together and build consensus at the board level so you can move the agenda forward?" Levensohn said. "How do you identify what your objectives are and make sure you don’t get sidetracked along the way?"

Levensohn was introduced to Hand in Hand while attending his first board meeting in Israel for one of LVP’s highly successful investments, Veraz Networks Inc.

As he fell in love with the country, Levensohn was deeply impressed by "one of the most far thinking and most logical projects."

"Twenty percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab," he said. "They’re an integral part of the society. It’s important for Jewish people and Arab people to co-exist and there needs to be reconciliation."

As the child of a multicultural family, Levensohn knows the value of tolerance and interfaith outreach.

He was born in Puerto Rico to a Catholic mother and a father who had survived the Holocaust. Levensohn was only 14 when his father died. At age 16, he enrolled at Harvard University and graduated at age 20.

"And I’ve been working ever since," he said.

For Levensohn, the key to venture capital investing is being selective — as far as how many deals to make and what companies to choose. As an early stage venture capital investor, LVP focuses on building market traction with companies as they transition from research and development through initial revenues.

Levensohn explained that he’s not looking for "two guys in a garage," but rather for products that have secured the first customer and are starting to ship.

Since LVP’s inception in 1996, the firm has raised $195 million in three funds. It is currently investing the third fund, which is $60 million.

One example of a promising LVP investment is Reconnex Corp., Mountain View, which provides companies protection from insiders leaking information.

LVP was able to assist Reconnex with bringing in new customers and developing its competitive strategy, Levensohn said, noting that in 2005 that company’s growth has accelerated quickly.

As the firm considers investments, it undertakes a rigorous due diligence process.

"It’s important for us to call a customer and have them explain to us why it’s a good product — why it’s better than something else," he said.

Levensohn is optimistic about the VC prospects out there — particularly for firms ready to invest its time, in addition to money.

"It’s a risky business, therefore you’ve got to do your work," he said. "It’s about rolling up your sleeves and we feel very comfortable working in that environment. I’ve never seen better investment opportunities than we’re seeing now."

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