Fiberlink weighs spring IPO

Paul Russell is one of that generation of Philadelphia serial entrepreneurs that jumped from business to business, and eventually into tech.

Russell owned, in succession, his wife's family's Furniture Exposition building in the 100 block of Chestnut St., which he turned into one of the first Center City riverfront apartment buildings, then condos, in the 1970s; later the Asch family's former Active Amusement Machine Co.; and, starting in 1991, his own creation, Fiberlink, which started by aggregating "dark fiber" long-distance service for AT&T competitor WilTel, and has evolved into a laptop-computer connector, dial-up Internet developer, and most recently an iPhone and smart-device secure cloud service provider (selling MaaS360, which stands for Mobility-as-a-Service, everywhere) to Vodafone, LinkedIn, Sunoco, Indepenence Blue Cross and 1,000 other clients.

Along the way Fiberlink raised tens of millions, from Edison Ventures in Princeton, Goldman Sachs, GE, and Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV), among other venture capital giants. "We almost went public in 2000, and then again in 2003," but each time its main business shifted too fast to clinch a sale, Russell told me.

Now, with 300 workers -- "we hired 100 people last year, and expect to hire 100 this year," said co-founder Jim Sheward -- the company sees another chance at mass capitalization.

"Maybe next spring," Russell told me, when I asked about going public, as Sheward and Mayor Nutter cut the ribbon at the Montgomery County-based company's new Philadelphia office on the 20th floor atop at 1601 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Center City, said Sheward, is where young engineers and marketing people want to work. Not the distant suburbs.) "We're on a great track now. We'll keep our heads down and keep pushing."

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