PE fund briefs, week of March 10, 2008

ABRY Partners halfway to target

Media-focused LBO shop ABRY Partners has cleared the halfway point on its way to a goal of $1.35 billion for its sixth fund. The firm has secured at least $700 million in commitments for ABRY Partners Fund VI, according to a regulatory filing.

The Boston-based shop, founded in 1989, is seeking 50% more capital for its latest buyout vehicle. In 2005, the firm held a final close on $900 million for its fifth LBO fund, which marked a slight increase from the $775 million raised for the prior vehicle. The firm also plays in the subordinated debt space, having raised $1.15 billion for two mezzanine funds closed in 2002 and 2006.

ABRY Partners charges a 30% carried interest, making it one of a handful of firms that take home more than the standard 20% rate and among a rare few that charge more than a 25% premium. Nonetheless, its $900 million fifth fund was hugely popular, drawing more than $3.3 billion in demand.

Previous limited partners include Grove Street Advisors, Indiana State Teachers’ Retirement System and Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System. PaSERS earlier this year re-upped for fund VI, committing $50 million to the new partnership.

The firm is led by co-founders Andrew Banks and Royce Yudkoff, who formed the shop after departing as the co-heads of the media practice at consultancy Bain & Co. —Jeremy Harrell

Natural Gas Partners fills up with $4B

Natural Gas Partners last week announced the final close of its ninth fund with $4 billion in commitments.

The firm raised $1.3 billion for fund eight, which closed in 2005 and is fully invested. Similar to its predecessors, Natural Gas Partners IX will be deployed toward upstream assets, or companies operating at the beginning of the fuel delivery cycle, where oil and gas is sourced and produced.

Most of Natural Gas Partners’s portfolio companies look to buy existing oil and gas reserves and continue operations. In some cases, the firm will create new companies to acquire reserves.

The general partner’s initial commitments to companies typically range from $30 million to $80 million, with the option to go higher for larger opportunities. The fund will be targeted mainly toward North America.

Roughly two-thirds of the limited partners in fund IX have backed Natural Gas Partners in the past, with about one third of the fund commitments coming from new LPs. The firm would not disclose LPs, but it has been reported elsewhere that the Indiana Public Employees’ Retirement Fund, Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension System and Virginia Retirement System have committed to the new fund. Investors in prior funds include American Beacon Advisors, Harvard Management Co., Minnesota State Board of Investment and the University of Pittsburgh. —Joshua Payne

Sun rises on Solaia Capital

Michael Carrazza is ready to start raising his first institutional fund of committed capital under the banner of Solaia Capital Advisors.

Carrazza is putting the finishing touches on his plan for launching the fund, which has a target of between $150 million and $600 million. Solaia will focus on mature mid-market businesses whose retiring entrepreneurs or management teams are seeking liquidity, a succession plan or capital to grow.

Solaia will operate as an affiliate of Bard Capital Group, which Carrazza co-founded in 2002 with Richard Bard, the firm’s chairman and CEO. The pair created Bard Capital as a fundless buyout shop so they could pursue select deals. Bard Capital has three portfolio companies and one exit to its credit.

Carrazza and Bard will continue to collaborate, with Carrazza working on Bard Capital’s portfolio companies and Bard lending his operating expertise to Solaia’s acquisitions. Bard, 60, lives in Colorado and is looking for a less hectic pace, whereas Carrazza, 42, is based in New York and says that he has no plans to slow down.

Carrazza says that he knows raising a first-time fund will be challenging, with limited partners looking for a track record of deals and exits. While raising money has not been difficult for Bard Capital’s one-off deals, Carrazza says that he found the process distracting. In June 2007, Bard Capital completed a $320 million buyout of Amquip Corp., one of the largest crane rental businesses nationwide, and Carrazza says raising the money for that deal was exhausting given that he had to assemble capital while simultaneously negotiating the transaction. “After going through that for 10 months, seven days a week, sometimes 20 hours a day without a breath, I’m not sure that I’d live through it again,” he says.

The word “solaia,” which in Italian means a sunny place, has meaning to Carrazza. It is the name of his polo team and one of his favorite Italian wines. —Bernard Vaughan

Versa aims for $600M

Turnaround shop Versa Capital Management, formerly known as Chrysalis Capital Partners, is looking to raise a $600 million fund, according to a regulatory filing. The Philadelphia-based firm lists Gregory Segall, Ira Lubert, Paul Halpern and Raymond French as general partners.

The fund target is substantially larger than the firm’s previous funds. It raised $52.8 million in 2005 for Chrysalis Capital Partners and $23.6 million for Chrysalis Capital Partners Parallel, according to data from Thomson Financial (publisher of PE Week). The firm counts the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System as a limited partner in its previous fund.

Aurora to launch $800M debt fund

Aurora Capital Group, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, is planning to raise $800 million for its first distressed debt fund, according to LBO Wire. The fund held a first close last September, and will be managed by a new team that includes partners Steven Martinez (formerly of Goldman Sachs) and Anthony DiSimone (formerly of H.I.G. Capital).

The firm raised nearly $900 million for its third buyouts fund in 2004.

Riverlake holds first close

Portland, Ore.-based Riverlake Equity Partners has held a $62 million first close for its second fund, which is being marketed with a $150 million target and a $175 million hard cap.

The firm raised about $30 million for fund I in 2003. E.L.K. Capital Advisors is serving as placement agent.