Academy Funds has taken on a veteran neurosurgeon as a partner to help pick up the slack after the departure of another partner.

Brad Walters, who for the past 15 years has been a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and a neurosurgeon at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, has joined the staff of the Charlotte-based venture capital fund. He will split his time between the firm’s offices in Raleigh and Winston-Salem.

“Health care has changed in the last five to 10 years,” Walters says. “Instead of loving 80 percent of what I was doing and tolerating the other 20 percent, I loved just 20 percent and disliked 80 percent.”

So after obtaining his MBA from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, Walters was linked him up by a friend with Academy, where he can put his medical training to use in scouting out promising biotechnology research going on at universities across the region for possible investments. The firm’s biotech portfolio already includes Biolex, Targacept, Pilot Therapeutics, Kucera Pharmaceuticals and ParinGenix.

“I wanted to do something more fun than I have been doing,” he says. “I learn something new almost every day, and I’m having a blast.”

Raising new fund

Academy Managing Director John Ciannamea says the firm is lucky to attract someone with Walters’ pedigree, noting that Walters also is a graduate of Harvard University School of Medicine and has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, which he earned in London while studying on a Marshall Scholarship.

“I know he’s going to be a tremendous help to us as we grow,” Ciannamea says.

Academy is in the midst of raising a planned $175 million third fund that would expand its university spin-off investments to several Southeastern states. Ciannamea declines to say when an initial closing is expected on the round, noting the economic doldrums makes fund raising a slow process.

Giving up tenure

In Winston-Salem, Walters will take over for Matt Crawford, who left last month to take a position with a billion-dollar venture firm in Texas with links to wealthy families in that state, including the Bushes. Crawford joined Academy shortly after its inception in late 1999 after a stint as regional vice president for Highwoods Properties in the Piedmont Triad area.

When asked about the wisdom of giving up a tenured position in academia for a venture capital job in a down market, Walters says he wanted to show his children that you can improve your life by taking chances.

“Whenever I would go to medical seminars and would hear presentations about interesting research, so many doctors would say afterward, ‘Gee, that’s so interesting, I wish I could get involved in that’,” he says. “Well, you can. You just have to make the move.”

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