Harris Williams has won Mergers & Acquisitions’ 2018 M&A Mid-Market Award for Investment Bank of the Year. The Richmond, Virginia, investment bank, co-founded by Hiter Harris (pictured), completed 87 transactions in 2018, the most in firm history, up more than 22 percent from two years prior. The year’s aggregate sell-side transaction value of more than $31 billion topped the year prior by more than 28 percent and exceeded 2016’s total aggregate transaction value by more than 50 percent. Harris Williams experienced strong momentum with strategic and financial buyers located across the U.S., Europe and Asia; more than 20 percent of the firm’s clients were privately-held companies. Harris Williams completed the most buy-side transactions in firm history, a 56 percent increase from 2017. Demonstrating growth, the firm hired 97 full-time employees, for a total of 315 employees at the end of the year, and welcomed the largest analyst and associate classes in firm history. Since its founding in 1991, Harris Williams says it “has been devoted to execution excellence, fostering longstanding relationships, and acting as a thoughtful partner to clients. The firm’s unique approach ensures that our clients benefit from our collective expertise, acting as one firm to provide guidance that is specifically tailored to achieve the right results, the right way.”

Excelled. Innovated. Inspired. That’s what the eight winners of Mergers & Acquisitions’ 12th Annual M&A Mid-Market Awards did in 2018. Our awards honor the leading dealmakers and deals that set the standard for transactions in the middle market. In addition to Harris Williams, award winners include: Nike, Fortive, TA Associates, the Riverside Co., Monroe Capital, Goodwin and Luminate Capital Partners’ Hollie Haynes and more. Read our full coverage: Meet the winners of the M&A Mid-Market Awards: Nike, Fortive, TA, Harris Williams.

Related: Read more about Mergers & Acquisitions‘ three annual special reports, including the M&A Mid-Market Awards, the Rising Stars of Private Equity, and the Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A.

Deal news
Shaquille O’Neal is joining the board of pizza chain Papa John’s International Inc. (Nasdaq: PZZA) and is investing in nine restaurants in the Atlanta area. The former NBA star has also entered into a marketing agreement with the company and has agreed to pitch the brand. Read the full story by Bloomberg News: Shaquille O’Neal joins Papa John’s board, invests in restaurants.

Spark Network, owner of Christian Mingle, Jdate and other online dating brands, is buying dating app developer Zoosk in a deal that values the target at around $255 million. “North America has been a key strategic market for Spark, and the focal point for our growth initiatives,” says Sparks CEO Jeronimo Folgueira. Advisors to Zoosk include: Piper Jaffray (NYSE: PJC) and Fenwick & West. Spark is being advised by Morrison & Foerster.

Insight Venture Partners has bought a stake in enterprise software services provider PDI. PE firms Genstar and TA Associates are keeping minority stakes in the target. Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP represented Insight Venture Partners.

Brown & Brown Inc. (NYSE: BRO) has bought Medval LLC, a Medicare secondary payer services provider, from Cobalt Ventures, the private equity subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City. Cobalt Ventures is being advised by Bailey Southwell.

May River Capital-backed Hunt Valve Co. has acquired Montreal Bronze Ltd, a supplier of marine valves. EC M&A advised Hunt Valve.

Stella Point Capital-backed Vereco has bought CyngergisTek’s managed print services business for $30 million. Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson represented Vereco.

For deal announcements, see The weekly wrap: FIS, Janney, Peak Rock.

For more on PE fundraising, see PE fundraising scorecard: Allegiance Partners, Maven Equity, Tower Arch.

Featured content
On Day 2, three No. 1 seeds, including No. 1 overall seed, the Duke University Blue Devils, play their first game of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. This year, March Madness offers fans unprecedented access to online betting, thanks to a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. More Americans are expected to place bets on the college basketball tournament than the Super Bowl, with the American Gaming Association’s predicting that about $8.5 billion in wagers will be placed on the tournament. Online betting and data companies, including sportsbooks from DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars, are drawing basketball fans and interest from investors. M&A is rampant throughout the sector. Here’s a look at recent online gaming and sports data deals.

Related: March Madness: DraftKings, FanDuel, Action Network draw fans, dealmakers.

Private equity-backed buyers of advisory firms have dominated the RIA headlines for the past two years. Aggressive dealmakers KKR and Stone Point Capital, which bought Focus Financial in 2017, exemplify the trend. But private equity firms aren’t the only major players in the hyper-competitive M&A space, which is coming off its second straight record-breaking year. Deep-pocketed, owner-controlled, strategic RIA buyers, led by Captrust Financial Partners, are also flexing their considerable M&A muscle and proving to be quite attractive to sellers. Read the full story: RIA buyers challenge private equity for deal dominance.

What’s driving adaptive reuse, and how can private equity tap into this increasingly common but misunderstood and under-analyzed property segment? Adaptive reuse, which involves repurposing a building designed originally for something else, is fast becoming a global phenomenon; from turn-of-the-century warehouses to castles to train stations, developers and investors have untapped enormous value from obsolete building stock. Read the full story: Why private equity investors should consider adaptive reuse.

Technology M&A is thriving, and private equity firms are hot on the trail of innovations that will drive sustainable value to customers and make companies more efficient, more effective and less expensive to run. Among the developments appealing to PE investors are: artificial intelligence, data management, data virtualization, digital marketing, healthcare IT, industrial automation, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine learning, payment processing and Software-as-a-Service. To gain more insights into what kinds of tech deals will dominate the field in 2019, Mergers & Acquisitions reached out to 10 private equity firms that are active investors in technology: Francisco Partners, Genstar, Great Hill, HGGC, Insight, LLR, Riverside, Silver Lake, TA and Vista.

Related: 10 private equity firms share strategies for tech M&A.

In Mergers & Acquisitions’ annual look at strategic buyers, we see significant deals aimed at enhancing the customer relationship, including Amazon.com Inc.’s (AMZN) purchase of PillPack, Nike Inc.’s (NYSE: NKE) acquisitions of Invertex Ltd. and Zodiac Inc. and Target Corp.s’ (NYSE: TGT) acquisition of Shipt. Technology plays a key role in many transactions. But while technology is enabling developments, it’s not an end unto itself for many corporations. Instead, strategic buyers are using innovations as a means to achieve goals. Based on analyzing hundreds of recent deals, Mergers & Acquisitions has identified seven goals corporate dealmakers hope to accomplish through M&A transactions today: Integrate data with software; improve the customer experience and relationship; expand and improve distribution; process payments more efficiently; leverage tech trends, like autonomous vehicles; make manufacturing processes more efficient; and achieve better outcomes and efficiencies in healthcare. “Strategics have been really active,” says John Neuner, managing director, Harris Williams. “They are aggressive in pursuing the assets they want, as long as it fits within their strategy. Scale is critical to them, and they have to meet consumer demands by adding new capabilities.”

Related: 7 reasons why smart companies Amazon, Nike, Target are doing M&A.

Mergers & Acquisitions profiles the top 28 investment banks of 2018, with KPMG, Houlihan Lokey, Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), William Blair and Lincoln International ranking as the five most active investment banks in private equity-backed deals. The list is based on volume of completed PE-backed deals, with PitchBook as the data provider. It was a good year for dealmaking, with activity in the U.S. middle market exceeding $400 billion, the first year to achieve the milestone.

Related: Top investment banks in PE-backed deals: KPMG, Houlihan, GS, William Blair
Related: M&A soared in 2018; companies confident about dealmaking in 2019.

Mergers & Acquisitions has named 36 leaders the 2019 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A, including Kainos Capital’s Sarah Bradley, Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors’ Nishita Cummings and Pelham S2K Managers’ Venita Fields. 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.

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

Exponent Women LLC is hosting an evening of networking and conversation with leading economists at the New York office of Alliance Bernstein on April 4. Speakers include Lindsey Piegza, chief economist, Stifel Fixed Income, and Kathleen Fisher, head of wealth and investment strategies, Alliance Bernstein.

Innovation Works is holding its second annual AI/Robotics Venture Fair in Pittsburgh from on May 15 and 16.

ACG New York, ACG Boston and ACG Philadlephia are holding the Industrial Conference with Value Creation at the Infor in New York on June 6. The event is part of the Northeast Industry Tour.