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Pipe dreams Featured

9:40am EDT July 22, 2002

Ed Meckler took advantage of the world’s largest waiting room.

Instead of reading 3-year-old copies of Reader’s Digest, visitors to Ed Meckler’s dental clinics wandered the aisles of Sears stores until pagers informed them it was time for X-rays, cleanings and the drill. Meckler founded the Sears Dental Centers, now known as DentalCare Partners Inc., in 1981. He was recognized for his accomplishments in 1994, when he was named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in the health care category.

Today, 19 years and 74 offices after launching his business, Meckler has sold his interest in the chain, although he still serves as chairman of the board and oversees operations a few days a week. Not quite ready to retire, the spry 60-year-old recently got the itch to get back into the driver’s seat.

He contacted a cousin, Sheldon Drobny, in Chicago, asking if Drobny, chairman and principal of the Paradigm Group LLC, could point him toward an interesting venture. He did, just not the one Meckler expected.

Meckler and his cousin opened a Cleveland branch of Paradigm on Chagrin Boulevard in Beachwood in April with plans to invest $500,000 to $10 million in both private placements and public offerings.

This “allows them to get in with the people that have the right entrepreneurial spirit,” says Meckler, who has been named managing director of the Cleveland office.

The Chicago-based Paradigm Group LLC traces its roots to an accounting firm at which Drobny is a partner. Several years ago, a client owed the firm some money which it couldn’t pay. At the same time, the client was looking for investment money in hopes of executing its business plan.

Drobny and his partners raised about $10,000, with the goal of getting paid for their work. Today, that $10,000 would be worth more than $100 million.

The accountants continued their angel investing ways. The investment arm — Paradigm — was founded in 1995. Through 1998, Paradigm had raised about $100 million. Meckler has been a long-time investor in the Chicago operation.

The company specializes in PIPE (private investment in public entities) transactions, which separates the firm from other investment organizations, says Meckler.

“Not a lot of venture capital organizations actively seek out public entity investment,” he says. “The Paradigm management team has a strong background in accounting and auditing that enables them to identify the right investment opportunities in public companies.” How to reach: Paradigm Group LLC, (216) 514-1072

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.