Mergers & Acquisitions announced the 2021 Top 10 Middle-Market Deals of the Year at our The Best in M&A Speak virtual event on May 5. Read our full coverage of the winning transactions, starting here.

The world was on lockdown. Factories were closed, and supply chains were disrupted. Face-to-face meetings were impossible, and everything from education to religion went virtual, as Zoom became the norm. Many deals failed to finish, or even begin. But the 2021 Top 10 Middle-Market Deals of the Year flourished despite the pandemic. What a time to shine.

This marks our 14th annual M&A Mid-Market Awards, and it represents a reimagining of our awards. The new approach enables us to dig more deeply into each transaction and to highlight the many players at the deal table. We have revamped the project to focus exclusively on the most compelling deals of the last 14 months – and to focus on the companies that came together to make them happen in the most challenging of times.

There were certainly many bumps along the road to closing transactions, due to the extraordinary circumstances of Covid-19, including quarantines, work from home and supply chain disruptions. But ultimately the winning deals prevailed. And they contributed significantly to the buyer’s bottom line – from delivering record quarters for public companies to launching new platforms for private equity portfolios.

With the May issue of the magazine and our online coverage here, we honor the 2021 Top 10 Middle-Market Deals of the Year and acknowledge nearly 30 Honorable Mentions. For each winning transaction, we are recognizing buyer, seller and target. We are also recognizing the companies that participated in the deal, including investment banks, law firms and lenders.

Here are the winners of the 2021 Top 10 Middle-Market Deals of the Year: Bought Personalization Mall and Delivered Record-Breaking Results

The purchase of gift customizer Personalization Mall by e-commerce pioneer Inc. (Nasdaq: FLWS) from home furnishing retailer Bed Bath & Beyond hit a high-profile bump or two on its way to closing, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, but all’s well that ends well. Really well, in this case. The deal closed over the summer and helped its new buyer achieve record-breaking results by year’s end. For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

BV Acquired EdTech Provider StraighterLine When Covid Drove Learning to the Internet

BV Investment Partners’ acquisition of education technology company StraighterLine came at a time when the need for affordable higher education has never been greater. The global economy requires a skilled workforce, and the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified the necessity for new expertise to succeed in an increasingly digital and evolving world. At the same time, the primary path to gain career ready skills and a college education is often out of reach for many people due to rising costs for college students who have to juggle jobs, families and financial responsibilities. For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

First American Bought Docutech, the Fintech Pioneer in E-Signing Mortgages

First American Financial Corp.’s $350 million acquisition of fintech provider Docutech from Serent Capital expands First American’s digital offerings to real estate lenders. Docutech is well-known to home buyers and those refinancing mortgages. Anyone who has bought a home recently or refinanced a mortgage has probably used Docutech to e-sign documents from the lender, especially in Covid. Docutech provides the technology mortgage lenders use to deliver mortgage and settlement services online, essential tools in the era of Covid quarantines. For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

Francisco Partners Leveraged Expertise in Carveouts to Acquire MyFitnessPal from Under Armour

The $345 million acquisition of consumer application MyFitnessPal by private equity firm Francisco Partners from footwear maker Under Armour (NYSE: UAA) required a careful and steady execution plan. Fortunately, this intricate process was nothing new for the dealmakers at the tech-focused firm who are well-known as carveout experts. FP acquired and restructured Dell Technologies Inc.’s (NYSE: DELL) software group in 2016. The Dell deal was instrumental in FP winning Mergers & Acquisitions’ 2016 Private Equity Firm of the Year. Read our full awards writeup.

Huron Capital Acquired Sunland Asphalt & Construction to Launch New Platform

Huron Capital began pursuing opportunities in the asphalt and paving sector two years ago, after identifying it as a fragmented industry ripe for consolidation with aging infrastructure and fundamentally strong tailwinds. On January 14, 2021, the Detroit private equity firm announced a new infrastructure services platform through its acquisition and recapitalization of Sunland Asphalt & Construction Inc., a vertically integrated, market-leading asphalt producer and paving services provider serving the rapidly growing southwestern U.S. Two months later, Sunland bought its nearest rival. For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

Kohlberg & Co. Bought AWP After 11 Add-Ons Executed by Seller the Riverside Co.

Over the five years that the Riverside Co. owned utility services provider Area Wide Protective, the private equity firm worked closely with management to execute an aggressive growth plan that included 11 strategic acquisitions. Under Riverside’s ownership, AWP grew from 2,000 employees to 5,000 and tripled its number of facilities. In December, Kohlberg & Co. bought the company, with partner Benjamin Mao saying: AWP has “established itself as the leading traffic control platform in North America. Paired with Kohlberg’s utility services background, we believe AWP is well-positioned to accelerate growth and to bolster a national footprint.” For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

Ligand Pharmaceuticals Acquired Pfenex in an Urgent Year for Covid Treatments

Demand for a key ingredient in a sought-after Covid-19 treatment drove a busy year for Ligand Pharmaceuticals. The biopharma maker was also active on the deal front, continuing a recent spate of transactions. In October, Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq: LGND) completed its acquisition of Pfenex Inc. for $437.5 million in cash, plus a contingent payment of $78 million in cash if milestones are met. Pfenex owns a proprietary technology used to produce enzymes, peptides, antibody derivatives and engineered non-natural proteins. For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

Refinitiv Acquired Giact Systems, as Finance Companies Seek Fraud Protection

Refinitiv’s purchase of fraud prevention firm Giact from Tritium Partners underscores the strong need for cybersecurity in a virtual world. Faster payments, never-ending data breaches and increasing digitization have challenged organizations to improve their fraud prevention and compliance procedures. The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted these trends into overdrive. For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

Rockwell Automation Bought Fiix to Transform Manufacturing

Rockwell Automation’s acquisition of Fiix Inc. combined emerging technologies to transform traditional manufacturing and industrial practices. As Rockwell CEO Blake Moret noted when the deal was announced in January 2020: “We’re taking the traditional operational technology and know-how that has existed on the plant floor for so many years, and we’re marrying that with IT technology and bringing those together. It’s really unlocking a whole new level of productivity across all the industries that we serve.” For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

Vista Acquired Customer Success Software Pioneer Gainsight for $1.1 Billion

Tech-focused PE firm Vista Equity Partners in December acquired Gainsight, a pioneer in customer success software, in a deal that values the venture capital-backed startup at a reported $1.1 billion after building a years-long relationship with CEO Nick Mehta. Gainsight, which develops software that allows companies to view and analyze customer data from a wide variety of sources including customer relationship management programs, was contemplating an initial public offering prior to the deal with Vista. Customer success is considered a burgeoning and important category for businesses. The startup had raised more than $150 million in venture capital from firms including Battery Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Insight Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Summit Partners Venture Capital. For more on the winning deal, read our full writeup.

For more details on the winning deals and the many firms that participated in them, see the spreadsheet below on the 2021 Top Middle-Market Deals of the Year.

Also see the spreadsheet below for all the details on our Honorable Mentions.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Demitri Diakantonis and John Melendez contributed to this report.