Robert E. Keith
TL Ventures
Co-founder and managing director

Biography

Robert E. Keith, Jr. comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. At the start of the 20th century, the Brockton, Massachusetts-based Keith family owned one of the largest shoe companies in the nation, if not the world. Still, his family encouraged him to study law, not business, when the time came. He complied, graduating from Amherst College with a liberal arts degree and then the Beasley School of Law. Both degrees would serve him well throughout his career, but they couldn’t deter him from jumping into banking right after he graduated from law school. Mr. Keith spent two years working as a credit analyst at Fidelity Bank before he was moved to manage the Business Interests Unit, which was responsible for private companies held by the bank as a fiduciary. In 1989, after 22 years with Fidelity, Mr. Keith left to become a venture capitalist. At the time, he was the Philadelphia-based bank’s vice chairman, responsible for most of its commercial lending and non-banking subsidiaries. TL Ventures, the firm he went on to help found, maintained a $1.5 billion portfolio comprised of start-ups in the software, information technology, and business service sectors. Stronger commercial and banking regulations have constricted the market for small businesses, Mr. Keith says, but, “what has not changed, there are still a lot of entrepreneurs out there. And that’s why I come to work every day at 76; because I invest personally in early-stage companies. It’s fascinating to be presented with a new idea every day.” He describes Philadelphia as being a “reasonably supportive” environment for small businesses, and start-ups in particular. Ben Franklin Technology Partners, an incubator established by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development more than three decades ago, has been a beacon for promising, local entrepreneurs, he says. But what little funding exists for them is coming largely from outside of Philadelphia. “We need more seed capital and venture capital locally,” Mr. Keith says. There’s only so much he can do to influence that front—he’s a former chairman of Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Reinvestment Fund, as well as a lifetime-achievement-award recipient from the Greater Philadelphia Venture Capital Group—but he’s found that having a hand in priming the pipeline offers an immediate return on his investment. Shortly after his appointment, Mr. Keith was invited to speak to classes at the Fox School. “Fox is very supportive of entrepreneurs, both in terms of its programming and its courses,” Mr. Keith says. “And what’s happened under former Fox Dean Moshe’s leadership over the last decade or so is extraordinary.” As to what he tells the students, some of whom may be pitching him soon: “Be opportunistic. It’s like the adage says, ‘I’d rather be lucky than smart.’ But you have to recognize when you’re being lucky.”

Temple University Degree
Juris Doctor ‘66, Beasley School of Law

Temple University Awards & Affiliatons
Distinguished alumnus, Beasley School of Law, 2004

What I wanted to be when I was 20 years old
I really wanted to go into business, but my family was encouraging me to attend law school.

Best piece of advice anyone ever gave me
“Warren (“Pete”) V. Musser advised me to leave banking for venture capital. I said, ‘But, Pete, I don’t know anything about technology.’ To which he countered, ‘Neither do I. Don’t worry about it.’”