IVCA Profile: Oliver Nicklin, Recipient of the 2019 Richard J. Daley Award at the upcoming IVCA Awards Dinner

IVCA Profile: Oliver Nicklin, Recipient of the 2019 Richard J. Daley Award at the  upcoming IVCA Awards Dinner

November 27, 2019

It’s IVCA Awards Dinner time … the 2019 edition will take place December 9th at the Four Seasons Hotel... and the recipients of those upcoming awards have been named. The Richard J. Daley Award – which honors individuals who have given extraordinary support or advocacy to the Venture Capital and Private Equity industries – will be presented to Oliver Nicklin, the veteran Founder and President of First Analysis venture capital, and the establisher of the First Analysis Institute (FAI), a charitable and educational arm of the firm.
Oliver Nicklin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, also the hometown of Janis Joplin and the Dallas Cowboy’s Jimmy Johnson. After receiving a Bachelors of Science at the University of Texas in chemical engineering, he got his MBA at Harvard University. Before forming First Analysis, he served as the COO of William Blair & Company.
Mr. Nicklin founded First Analysis in 1981, making it one of the oldest Venture Capital firms in the history of Chicago commerce. Known for its integrative research process and combined securities trading, it also provides public research on on many small public and privately held companies. The firm has invested more than $780 million across 13 funds. Several Chicago-area Venture Capital and Private Equity firms were spawned through Oliver’s work and mentoring.
In addition to serving on many corporate boards, Mr. Nicklin has served on the boards of the Field Foundation, the Regenstein Foundation, the Finance Council of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Midwest Palliative & Hospice Care Center, the University of Chicago Divinity School’s Advisory Council, and the Illinois Technology Fund (TDA1).
He also established the First Analysis Institute, and through its Integrative Studies has been a leader in sponsoring interdisciplinary seminars and research with various local universities. It also has focused on research specifically into Celiac Disease, and in its long-standing effort for better understanding and trust between the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities.
Three colleagues submitted the nomination of Oliver Nicklin for the Daley Award, Jim Johnson of Apex Venture Partners, John A. Buck of The John Buck Company and Tom Thompson of WP Global Partners.
Jim Johnson said this in his nomination letter, “Apex and/or firms we represented participated in a number of joint investments with First Analysis. Both of those companies rewarded their venture investors with excellent profits. Oliver is an outstanding candidate for this honor, and it is long overdue.”
John A. Buck added in his recommendation, “I have known Oliver for some 40 years, as a neighbor and friend. Oliver is a thinker, innovator and most astute businessman. Mayor Richard J. Daley would be proud to welcome Oliver to the Club.”
Tom Thompson offered, “Oliver is an exceptional individual with the types of consistent character traits that makes one honored to be associated with him. He is an accomplished businessman, as well as a devoted family man and father. He never fails to volunteer his help or assistance, and is genuinely thoughtful and concerning towards his friends and acquaintances.”
The IVCA got the opportunity to get some insight from Oliver Nicklin himself, in the following Q&A profile.
IVCA: When you were founding First Analysis back in the early 1980s, what were the main strategies for investment, and what were your goals for firm culture?
Oliver Nicklin: Our investment focus has always been the same seven B2B tech enabled areas, which have been continually relabeled as the technologies have evolved. Today, these are known by names including human capital technology, cyber security, med/pharma tech, and clean tech. Our culture has always been highly participatory in all respects, with a strong research orientation encompassing both private and public companies in these seven areas.
IVCA: Given that First Analysis is one of the oldest VC firms in Chicago, what is the most significant change you’ve seen in the nearly 40 years as the industry evolved, and how did that become the game changer for the entire VC business?
Nicklin: Interest rates have continually trended downward from the extremely high levels of the early 1980s to the recent extremely low levels, creating a tremendous in-flow of funds and correspondingly high valuations. As a result, the number of VC funds has increased from well less than 100 to about 3,000, not including another 2,000 that have gone out of business over that history.
Fortunately, the number of startups has greatly increased, ultimately adding to the population of venture investment opportunities at all stages. Also, many VC firms have shifted to a PE strategy because of the favorable financing environment.
IVCA: First Analysis is known for its innovative approach to investments, using research as guidepost for strategy. What are some examples where research really put you ahead of a particular fund or funds, in how that success played out?
Nicklin: I think it’s almost impossible to isolate the research effect on any particular investment – it’s too much the fabric of what we do every day. It’s more discernible over time. For example, our extensive research over many years in the environmental sector has enabled us to invest profitably in that sector, something many others have attempted with little success. Ultimately, the most visible effect of research is simply in the cumulative result across all our investments and all our funds … a three-decade-plus history of consistent success.
IVCA: First Analysis is on its 13th Fund (or 12 Plus). What approach in this fund, in comparison to the first fund that the firm launched, that you would not have recognized back in the early 1980s and why?
Nicklin: Our level of sophistication today, in every respect – from sourcing investments through exiting investments, in portfolio management and administration, and in many other areas – would not have been recognizable in the early 1980s.
IVCA: Outside of your work with First Analysis, what passions do your pursue in your spare time, and what outside-the-business institutions do you contribute to? How have these pursuits evolved over the years?
Nicklin: Of course, my growing extended family has always been my first love. My wife Katherine and I helped pioneer the Hospice movement in the northern suburbs beginning in the late 1970s, up to the early 2000s. I’ve also enjoyed serving on various boards or advisory councils associated with the Catholic Archdioceses, the Field Foundation for funding early stage Chicago charities, the Regenstein Foundation for funding late stage Chicago charities, and the University of Chicago Divinity School. However, my extracurricular passions probably center more on the holistic based programs sponsored by the First Analysis Institute discussed below.
IVCA: The First Analysis Institute has tackled some significant charitable objectives, including contributing to research for Celiac Disease. But one of its main objectives is the longstanding effort to better the mutual understanding and trust among Christians, Jews and Muslims. What rewards, both personally and on the Institute level, has been reaped through the work on this ‘come together’ project?
Nicklin: For the past few years, the First Analysis Institute has sponsored programs to explore the synergy of combining the very popular Vitamin D with the very unpopular Vitamin A for treating Celiac Sisease and a variety of cancers through the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago, respectively. While this newly discovered synergy has proven surprisingly effective for both disease categories, it’s prudent to wait for published results before drawing conclusions.
At Catholic Theological Union [CTU], the First Analysis Institute has sponsored a seminar series for over a decade based on the natural complementarity between the three different Abrahamic faith traditions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Needless to say, after thousands of years of conflict this is a very challenging endeavor, and any progress is rewarding.
IVCA: As the 2019 recipient of the Richard J. Daley Award, what does it mean to you personally to be recognized by your peers in the Venture Capital and Private Equity industries?
Nicklin: Given First Analysis’s and FAI’s unconventional holistic approach to these various domains – venture investing, treating certain cancers and autoimmune diseases, as well as rationalizing the different Abrahamic faith traditions – this recognition by IVCA provides a strong ray of hope and encouragement for which I’ll be forever grateful.
The IVCA Annual Awards Dinner will be December 9th, 2019, presented by Kirkland and Ellis LLP, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. For more information, including tables/tickets to the event, click here.