M&A wrap: Audax, J.H. Whitney, Firebirds, The Riverside Co.

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Audax Private Debt, the debt financing unit of Audax Group, has raised the Audax Direct Lending Solutions Fund with $1.65 billion of capital. The fund will have $2.6 billion in total capital to invest in North American middle-market companies. “Direct Lending Solutions enhances our financing capabilities," says Kevin Magid, the head of Audax Privet Debt. "And together with our senior debt and mezzanine debt funds, allows us to provide an extensive variety of financing solutions to our private equity clients." "The fund enables Audax Private Debt to utilize its senior and junior debt underwriting expertise to provide unitranche and stretch senior financings of up to $175 million per transaction," according to a release. Other firms that have raised new lending funds include: Antares, Ares Management, The Carlyle Group LP (Nasdaq: CG), Madison Capital Funding and Monroe Capital.

Mergers & Acquisitions has named 36 leaders the 2019 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A, including Medley Capital's Marilyn Adler, Kainos Capital’s Sarah Bradley, Madison Capital Funding’s Jennifer Cotton, Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors' Nishita Cummings, Huntington Bank's Karen Davies, Pelham S2K Managers' Venita Fields, Antares Capital’s Shannon Fritz, Avante Mezzanine Partners’ Jeri Harman, Duane Morris’ Nanette Heide, the Riverside Co.’s Pam Hendrickson, Monroe Capital’s Karin Kovacic, Stifel’s Justine Mannering, KPS Capital Partners’ Raquel Palmer, Huron Capital's Gretchen Perkins, Accordion’s Michelle Van Hellemont and Sterling Investment Partners’ Amy Weisman. All 36 are outstanding dealmakers both inside and outside of their firms. This year, we asked the featured dealmakers to tell their own stories through Q&As, including their advice for women. "Actively lobby and ask from day one to work on deals, so you can gain dealmaking experience early in your career," advises Bradley. "Too often, women are steered into functions like marketing, business development, and investor relations – the 'softer side' where it is easier to place a female. The excuse often used is that the females don’t have the deal experience of their male counterparts. That is why you must be an advocate for yourself and work on deals from the very beginning."

Related: Meet the 2019 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A.

Deal news
J.H. Whitney Capital Partners LLC has acquired casual dining restaurant chain Firebirds Wood Fired Grill from Angelo, Gordon & Co. LP. North Point Advisors advised Firebirds, while Kirkland & Ellis advised J.H. Whitney.

The Riverside Co. has bought EMS Safety Services, a first aid and CPR training provider. Jones Day represented Riverside. Midcap Financial provided financing.

Transom Capital has acquired SemiTorr Group, a distributor of gas and fluid handling systems, from Riverlake Partners. O’Melveny and Myers and Perkins Coie represented Transom. Bank of America Merrill Lynch and PNC Mezzanine Capital provided financing.

Riata Capital Group-backed Acuity Eyecare Group has acquired eyecare practices Abba Eye Care and EyeCare Specialties. Acuity has also received an investment from J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Shore Capital-backed IZI Medical Products has bought soft tissue biopsy and breast localization needle assets from Cook Medical.

Vestar Capital Partners-backed Healthgrades has purchased healthcare information and data provider Influence Health.

Hostway and Hosting have merged to create a new cloud services company. Both companies are backed by Littlejohn & Co. and Pamlico.

H.I.G. Capital has purchased food distributor Lipari Foods Operating Co. from Sterling Investment Partners.

Outlook 2019
Mergers & Acquisitions asked leading dealmakers about their outlook for the middle market in 2019. View the video conversations, shot at ACG Philadelphia's M&A East:

It is a seller's market, and deal activity is expected to remain steady, says Ramsey Goodrich of Carter Morse & Goodrich. Watch the full video: Outlook 2019: Great time to sell.

Private equity firms and strategic buyers will use their excess cash and capital to look for deals, says Bharat Ramprasad of Stifel Nicolaus. Watch the full video: Outlook 2019: Excess capital to fuel M&A.

Rising interest rates and regulatory changes may increase volatility, cautions Mark Emrich of Murray Devine. Watch the full video: Outlook 2019: Keep an eye on rising interest rates.

Featured content
Private equity firms are giving back - organizing groceries at food pantries, mentoring students in schools, running races for cancer cures and pitching in at animal shelters. In time for the holidays, Mergers & Acquisitions highlights the philanthropic and volunteering initiatives of 5 PE firms: the Carlyle Group LP (Nasdaq: CG), Frontier Capital, Huron Capital, the Riverside Co. and Star Mountain Capital. At Carlyle, charity starts at the top, with CEO David Rubenstein's signing of The Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Community involvement is more important than ever to today’s work force. Millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1996 by the Pew Research Center, are “for sustainability, diversity, inclusion and giving back to the community,” says Carlyle managing director Christopher Ullman. Read the full story, The Big Give.

Dealmakers share their thoughts on Giving Back in video interviews conducted by Mergers & Acquisitions at ACG Philadelphia's M&A East. Check out our video with Reed Smith's Jonathan Moyer: For millennial dealmakers, giving back is part of who they are. And watch our conversationw with Baker Tilly Capital's Judit Nagy-Eichelber: Volunteer work brings teams together.

With the rising number of cyberattacks, conducting due diligence on data is more important than ever in dealmaking. Read the full guest article by Neil Coulson and Cynthia Cole of Bakter Botts: Why mitigating data risk is crucial in M&A.

Infrastructure investors can no longer afford to think about only concrete, glass and steel. Digitalization is transforming the role played by physical assets, and Paris private equity firm Ardian has identified five critical attributes, which form the foundation of a new approach to value creation called Augmented Infrastructure. For more, read: How digital disruption is transforming private equity investments in infrastructure.

The ongoing challenges in the retail sector continue to force some retailers to close, including the June liquidation of Toys R Us, backed by Bain Capital and KKR & Co. Inc. (NYSE: KKR).Technology is driving many of the transactions. Best Buy Co. (NYSE: BBY) recently agreed to spend $800 million to buy GreatCall, a provider of emergency response services for seniors, from Chicago private equity firm GTCR. Meanwhile, GreatCall announced a partnership on-demand transportation provider Lyft to make it easier for seniors to get car service. For more, see 5 trends driving retail M&A deals.

The NFL playoff field is narrowed to eight teams after Wild Card Weekend, and the Super Bowl is just two wins away. Off the field, football players build companies. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recently teamed with former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who is the co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America, to launch a sports media startup called Religion of Sports Media. Muhsin Muhammad, who played wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears, is a managing director of private equity firm Axum Capital Partners. Steve Young, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, is a co-founder of private equity firm HGGC. View our slideshow, NFL stars Tom Brady, Michael Strahan, Steve Young go PE.

Events
ACG New York Women of Leadership Summit brings together women in the middle-market dealmaking community for a day focused on networking and knowledge sharing on Jan. 17 at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel. Alexa Von Tobel, chief innovation officer of Northwestern Mutual, keynotes.

Exponent Women kicks off the new year with an evening of networking on Jan. 24 at The Campbell, at New York's Grand Central Terminal. Jazz Age financier John W. Campbell converted the space to his private office and reception hall in 1923, and it has recently been restored by design firm Ingrao Inc.

ACG Boston, ACG Connecticut, ACG New Jersey, ACG New York & ACG Philadelphia host ACG Northeast Dealmaking at the Mountain at Stowe Mountain Resort in Stowe, Vermont Jan. 27-29. The event provides a chance for middle-market M&A professionals from across the northeast to come together for two days of close knit networking, shared conversations and valuable time spent to deepen your relationships within the deal community.

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