Year in Review 2008: In Memoriam

Keith Benjamin, Levensohn Venture Partners

Venture capitalist Keith Benjamin passed away at the age of 49 on July 29. Benjamin, who had developed a passion for amateur boxing, suffered a brain hemorrhage while exercising at a gym.

Since 2002, Benjamin had been a managing partner with San Francisco-based Levensohn Venture Partners, where he focused on software and digital media investments. Before that, he was a general partner with Highland Capital Partners.

In a statement, Levensohn Venture Partners said: “We mourn the passing of our friend and partner, Keith Benjamin. He was a kind and loving person who adored his family, loved his work and was passionate about everything he did. We will miss him very much.”

An outpouring of reactions from service providers, co-workers and colleagues who knew Benjamin echoed those sentiments. A website in his honor lists many more remembrances at www.forthebenjaminfamily.blogspot.com.

Peter Wendell, a managing director at Sierra Ventures, said: “Keith and I were co-investors and fellow board members at FatBrain.com. He was a pleasure to work with and an effective counselor to the company, especially during its successful IPO.”

“Keith was everything you could ask for in a partner and co-investor—he was thoughtful, engaged, open, honest and a pleasure to be around at all times,” said Pacific Partners Managing Director Travis Nelson.

Like many of his Silicon Valley peers, Benjamin was a blogger, discussing both his personal and professional life at at www.sfventure.com.

Some have speculated that Benjamin’s untimely death was linked in some way to his boxing. He took up the sport three years ago and his first bout sent him to the emergency room for a CAT scan after three rounds. Benjamin wrote on his blog at the time that he was diagnosed with a mild concussion and a bruised rib.

But the experience did not diminish his appetite for the sport. “I don’t think it’s worth the risk of more concussions at my age,” he wrote. “I was surprised how easy it was to get dazed. Still, I’m looking forward to getting back to the gym to take what I experienced in the ring and use it to improve my techniques with bag work and sparring.” Benjamin is survived by his wife Nancy and two children.

Nicola Campbell, Sofinnova Ventures

Nicola Campbell

, a partner with Sofinnova Ventures, passed away in June at the age of 37.

Campbell joined Sofinnova in 2004 to focus on early stage investment opportunities in drug discovery and biologic development.

“I will always remember a very genuine and energetic person with a great sense of humor,” said Eric Buatois, a Sofinnova general partner. “She was always ready to help and contribute.”

Prior to Sofinnova, Campbell focused on mid-stage investment opportunities in drug discovery at BA Venture Partners (now known as Scale Venture Partners). Before that, she was with Burrill & Co.

Her investments included Alimera Sciences Inc., Cellective Therapeutics Inc., Marinus Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Phenomix Corp.

Campbell began her career as an immunologist, working in the research department of Genentech after she received a Ph.D. from Mount Sinai Medical Center. While at Mount Sinai, she was a recipient of the American Gastroenterology Association’s Outstanding Research Award. Part of her passion for the work was sparked by her own battle with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. It is unclear if that condition led to her passing.

Friends and colleagues remembered her as cheerful and energetic. Tammy Oropeza recalled how she met Campbell while working at the Children’s Health and Research Center at the University of Texas Medical Center. “I remember her beautiful smile, bubbly personality and how she could light up a room,” Oropeza wrote on peHUB.com, a website affiliated with VCJ. “I remember my husband stating how she could ‘get your attention’ just by her smile.”

Campbell was interred in her native Canada. —Dan Primack and Alastair Goldfisher

Keith Grinstein, Second Avenue Partners

Keith Grinstein

, co-founder of Seattle-based venture firm Second Avenue Partners and a strategic advisor to Madrona Venture Group, passed away in September from an apparent heart attack. He was 48.

Longtime friend and entrepreneur Tom Hughes, a co-founder of PhotoDisc Inc., said that Grinstein was equally embraced by the old-money establishment of Seattle, business owners, politicians and the upstart tech generation that he advised for the last several years.

Hughes recalled that at Grinstein’s 40th birthday party he and Second Avenue Partners Mike Slade and Nick Hanauer made a video featuring a well-known cast of Seattle leaders in business, politics and other local celebs, each of whom proclaimed on the video that they were Grinstein’s “best friend.”

“It was an incredibly easy project to complete because everyone was anxious to be included,” says Hughes. “We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of hard-driving community leaders for this silly spoof. And, of course, the ultimate jokester, Keith, reveled in our tease.”

Friends also recall that Grinstein was bright, educated and informed. He could do a Sunday crossword in about 15 minutes. Grinstein, a 1978 graduate of Seattle’s Lakeside School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a law degree from Georgetown University. He worked as an attorney in New York and Washington, D.C., before he returned to Seattle in the late 1980s to join McCaw Cellular Communications (which later became AT&T Wireless Services).

In 2000, Grinstein and three partners co-founded Second Avenue using their personal wealth rather than raising cash from limited partners. The firm focuses on early stage technology companies, especially those based in the Pacific Northwest.

At the time of his passing, Grinstein sat on the boards of NetSuite, F5 Networks and Labor Ready. He was also chairman of Coinstar Inc. (Nasdaq: CSTR), a Bellevue, Wash.-based operator of coin-counting machines.

“Keith played an important role in the growth and success of NetSuite,” says Zach Nelson, the company’s CEO. “He brought to our company a wealth of experience as a board member, business executive and successful technology investor. His talents, wisdom and guidance will be missed.”

As part of his extracurricular activities, Grinstein served as the treasurer of the foundation created in the memory of longtime U.S. Congressman Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and served on the finance committee for Sen. Maria Cantwell. A lover of animals, Grinstein was also involved with the local Humane Society.He is survived by his wife Claire Angel Grinstein, his brother Charles and his parents. —Alastair Goldfisher

Stuart Moldaw, U.S. Venture Partners

Stuart Moldaw

, co-founder of U.S. Venture Partners, passed away in May after a brief illness. He was 81.

Moldaw served as a general partner of USVP from its founding in 1980 to 1990. He was considered a pioneer in the specialty retail and clothing business for having helped launch and run such companies as Ross Stores, Gymboree Corp., Home Express, Pic-A-Dilly and Athletic Shoe Factory.

He also was a noted philanthropist and served on the boards of a number of nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area, such as the Moldaw-Zaffaroni Boys and Girls Club of East Palo Alto, Communities in Schools and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

Moldaw was a leading supporter of a senior living center at the Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto, which was renamed the Moldaw Family Residences after a $10 million gift from his foundation early last year. He was also a member of the board of trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Ballet and KQED.

“You would think that with all that business ability that you wouldn’t see a guy who is really very tender and sweet,” said Rabbi Brian Lurie, a former executive director of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation. “But [Moldaw] had a personality that was really quite endearing.”

Moldaw was politically active in the Democratic Party, and President Clinton appointed him a public delegate to the United Nations in 1993 and as chairman of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars in 1996.

“We can do so much to make the world a better place,” Moldaw wrote in a 2006 memoir, entitled “A Life Story for My Grandchildren.” “The advantage of financial well-being can make a person indulgent, rob him of the true measure of meaningful accomplishment and allow him to live a shallow life; or it can give him the ability to make a difference in the world that cries out for compassion, action and commitment.”

Moldaw was born in Boston in 1927 after his father fled the civil war in Russia. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, then attended Syracuse University, where he met his wife. Moldaw graduated from Syracuse in 1949 with a degree in marketing and economics. After working in retail for several years, he moved to California in 1955 and started his first company, Country Casuals, three years later.

Moldaw, who lived in Atherton, Calif., is survived by his wife Phyllis, two daughters and four grandchildren. —Dan Primack