Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

Encore Vision delivers big payday to Cowtown Angels investors

Bill Burns, the founder of Encore Vision, with Les Kreis, a local investor who was a founding member of the Cowtown Angels investing group.
Bill Burns, the founder of Encore Vision, with Les Kreis, a local investor who was a founding member of the Cowtown Angels investing group. Star-Telegram

The sale of Fort Worth startup Encore Vision to Novartis gave the first payday to Cowtown Angels investors — and it was a big one.

In an SEC filing Wednesday, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant that owns Alcon put the preliminary fair value of the transaction announced last month at $465 million. Novartis reported that the deal includes an initial cash payment of $375 million “before ordinary purcahse price adjustments,” plus $90 million due Encore shareholders over time “upon achievement of specified development and commercialization milestones.”

Encore Vision, which developed an eyedrop to treat presbyopia (the condition that requires millions of people to need reading glasses), was the first company to pitch to the Cowtown Angels, a local investor network launched out of the Tech Fort Worth business incubator. Members and a local venture capital fund put about $4 million into the company.

“Encore Vision is the first Cowtown Angels investment to be sold, and it’s a home run!” said Mike Butts, chair of the Cowtown Angels Steering Council, in a statement.

Bios Partners, the Fort Worth venture firm, invested $3.7 million in Encore Vision and was its largest single shareholder, said Les Kreis, who co-manages the fund and was a director of the company. About eight other Cowtown members invested the other $300,000.

Kreis, who was a founding member of the Cowtown Angels, declined to specify the size of its stake but said it amounted to less than 20 percent of the company. Encore raised money from a number of other investors as well, mostly private individuals.

Encore Vision was founded 10 years ago by Bill Burns, a former Alcon executive, who set up shop at Tech Fort Worth and used space at the UNT Health Science Center’s Acceleration Lab to develop the product.

Presbyopia is a hardening of the eye lens experienced by about 80 percent of people over the age of 45, which results in loss of near-distance vision and the need for reading glasses. Encore’s EV06 eye drop, which softens the lens, has shown positive results in phase I/II clinical trials.

Burns said last month that the eyedrop is still at least a couple of years away from the marketplace, with both Phase II and Phase III clinical studies to be completed.

“The Encore Vision investment is an excellent example of how local angel investors can work closely with institutional investors to share expertise and ultimately some success,” Kreis said.

Meacham makeover

Travelers who arrive in Cowtown on private jets will have a new first impression of Fort Worth.

On Tuesday, the city opened a new 85,000-square-foot administration building at Meacham Airport that includes new passenger lounges and conference rooms. The makeover of the building was funded with $20 million from the city and an undisclosed investment by American Aero FTW, a fixed-base operator that will lease 8,000 square feet for its employees in the new building.

“A vibrant airport makes for a vibrant city,” said Robert Bass, owner of American Aero, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “As primary tenant in this new facility, we’ve worked with the city to create a five-star experience.”

The airport, which opened in 1925, primarily serves private plane owners, passengers who fly on private aircraft and commercial aerospace businesses. In 2016, the airport had over 140,000 takeoffs and landings and recorded over 5 million gallons of fuel flowage with both metrics increasing over the past five years.

“You need a world-class center that is welcoming and open,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. “It makes Meacham a multipurpose airport, more than just for landings and taking off.”

Price said it made sense to keep the existing metal frame and foundation and renovate the building instead of tearing down the 1968 facility and constructing a brand new building. By keeping parts of the old building and installing energy efficient features such as View Dynamic Glass, which adjusts its tints depending on the sunlight, the new administration building is applying for LEED certification.

The new building houses the city’s aviation department along with divisions of the planning and development and code enforcement.

Workplace honors

Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics are being honored for their efforts to improve services and opportunities for youth and the under-employed by the National Association of Workforce Boards.

Workforce Solutions won the WIOA Trailblazer Award recognizing a group leading in adapting to changes envisioned in the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to help job seekers access employment, education and training to succeed in the global economy.

Workforce Solutions oversees more than $65 million in investments to create economic vitality for businesses and residents and is responsible for five, full-service Workforce Centers providing services to 53,000 youths and adults in 2016.

Their work with large corporations in the region resulted in $400 million in capital investments, 4,500 new jobs that represented $300 million in wages, the national association said.

Lockheed Martin was picked as the large corporation to receive the W.O. Lawton Business Leadership Award honoring businesses that commit time, money and leadership to help the community’s workforce. Among other things, Lockheed led the development of the Regional Aerospace Consortium and invested $1 million in Project Lead the Way and STEM programs

Lockheed’s efforts were instrumental in Workforce Solutions getting a $5 million federal grant to identify and place American engineers in six engineering industries. This resulted in 406 unemployed or under-employed degreed engineers within 37 companies.

They will be recognized at ceremonies in Washington, D.C., in March.

Housing demand

Here’s an example of just how strong the new home market is locally.

The Morningstar development in far west Fort Worth doesn’t even have a completed model home on the site, but homes are selling faster than builders can blink an eye. Four builders are building in Morningstar, near Aledo, and all have models under construction.

But they’ve completed 40 homes and the new owners will start moving in this month, said developers Tim Fleet and Kim Gill. About 30 of those homes were sold in the last three months.

The men expect to have another 130 homes under construction by mid-month. An amenity center and two pools should be completed in May.

Morningstar is a 737-acre development about a mile north of Interstate 20 off Farm Road 3325. More than 2,100 single-family homes will be built, along with 100 acres of parkland. Sandra Baker

Ad man Rienstra honored

The late Roger Rienstra, the former chief executive of Fort Worth’s Witherspoon Advertising and Public Relations, is among 11 inductees this year into the Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame.

The honorees are chosen based on contributions they made to the advertising industry and their community.

Rienstra died in 2002. Under his helm, Witherspoon became the largest ad agency in Fort Worth and the Southwest. He was known for being gifted artist, writer and communicator.

Rienstra joined the agency in 1962 as a junior production artist and became president in 1973. One of his first accounts as agency head was Pier 1 Imports, a Fort Worth-based home furnishings retailer.

He was a founding member of the Public Relations Society of America Fort Worth chapter and a president of the Advertising Club of Fort Worth. He also was a chairman of the Dallas-Fort Worth Council of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the recipient of the Ad Club’s Silver Medal Award in 1986.

Rienstra was involved for many years with the Davey O’Brien Foundation in Fort Worth, which annually honors the outstanding college quarterback and awards scholarships to high school students.

The Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Tenth District of the American Advertising Federation, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. The ceremony is April 7 at the Historic Hilton Hotel, 815 Main St. in downtown Fort Worth. Sandra Baker

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko