Boston London New York

Good Fortune, Dan

Posted by Mark DiSalvo on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 @ 1:45PM 

I think I was subscriber number 293 – certainly somewhere under one thousand.  That got me the privilege of sharing a Dim Sum meal in Boston’s Chinatown with the curly haired, lightening talking, quick-fire questioning editor of what was then known as PE Week Wire.  In those days Dan Primack would meet with anyone.  Witness his suffering me gnawing on Fung  Zao (chicken feet steamed in black bean sauce—don’t knock it till you try it) and learning that the young scribe was a former political activist, community newspaper reporter and editor as well as failed federal level campaign manager.  I kept thinking to myself “he’s just like me (politically) except with hair and actually is able to write – and he really does speak intelligently about the fund business”.   It was odd that we both started our careers in politics for it was abundantly clear, in my case anyway and I’ll bet Dan’s, that early in our community oriented activism that neither of us could spell PE. 

Dan has not since shared a meal with me (showing excellent judgment) but has offered countless insights on our business sector spiced with an open and undeniably irreverent style.  It seems his corporate overlords, as he respectfully touted his employer, could look past bald political opinion, an undeserved mistrust in the initial coaching abilities of Doc Rivers, a penchant to encourage nationwide betting on college basketball and a desire to increase his own subscribers’ income taxes.  He also shared, in a disarmingly intimate manner, absolute love for his wife Jen along with the tests of that affection including a grueling trek up Machu Picchu, frequent trips away from home in the “trusty” (read “death trap”) old Pontiac – and now the blessings of soon-to-be fatherhood. 

I learned to appreciate the aggregation of content, saw the business blogosphere grow up in front of me, witnessed the creation and explosion of the peHUB brand, the wisdom of contrarian thought, and most particularly appreciated the daily news that would occasionally set up an insight or future knowledge base that would occasionally get me a gig.  The day just plain required that 10am Primack fix.

Dan’s announcement begs the many questions of an ever curious investor. What prompts a founder’s departure?  Was there a fatal flaw in whatever the relationship/agreement was with Thompson Reuters?  Was he pushed because of cost cutting?  Did he jump for better security and/or more cash?  Is this next gig an entrepreneurial adventure (and did I miss the opportunity to participate!)? What can I learn from his experience to cement my own portfolio relationships?  I suspect we will yet learn the answers to those queries as Dan himself will be as revelatory as one could expect and present his own valedictory.

This fund manager and advisor will continue to be a reader of peHUB and hopes its next editor will bring the same irreverence and a unique perspective to the marketplace.  The entire Semaphore team and I wish Dan Primack all good fortune(.com). 


Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (, a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for seven Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.

Topics: Venture Capital, equity, private equity funds, VC, investment


Posted by Richard Gabriel on Thursday, July 29, 2010 @ 12:00PM 

By Richard Gabriel

I live in Massachusetts and let’s face it; we live in what is perceived to be a high tax state. Whether this belief is true or not we share that belief of high taxes with California, New York, New Jersey and Michigan. On the other hand Florida, Texas and North Carolina, among others share a different belief and it is reflected in each states approach to funding of Life Science companies. And each of those states would kill for the concentration of Life Science, technology and educational institution that we enjoy with California and the other so called high tax states.

Sure, taxes in Massachusetts and the overall business environment for start up companies are less than ideal. There is frankly, no comparison between the incentives being offered in Florida and Texas for start up companies to move to those states and start their businesses. Some entrepreneurs have moved to these states and have taken advantage of the help, financing and favorable state environments. Each time a technology leaves Massachusetts heading for more fertile pastures, we lose jobs, tax revenues and population, which in turn decreases our real estate values, creates more stress on our commonwealth to raise taxes even more, it’s a vicious cycle and yet we sit on one of the greatest natural intellectual resources in the world and have yet to figure out how to fully mine its fountain of bubbling opportunities.

However, in my last blog, we talked about a new funding model for biotech and the life sciences industry and we received hefty responses from VC’s that were interested in exploring a new way of funding. Some ideas that we kicked around included a new ‘fund’ that would have a longer time horizon, attract a more patient and less capricious group of investment partners that weren’t demanding a 5 year exit with double digit returns per annum, but rather a combination of long term debt, mixed with long term equity investment.

How would such a fund work? Well a possible appropriate debt to equity ratio should be 1 to 4. Every dollar in long term debt at a reasonable interest rate is backed by 4 dollars in equity. This ratio, provides the limited debt partner with the interest only coverage for the life of the debt, which in Life Sciences, should be no less than 10 years. Additionally, expecting a short term double digit return on a Life Science equity investment is, frankly, ridiculous. Not only does it place an unfair burden on the entity that is being formed and its management, it is an unfair hurdle and it’s artificial to the practical operations of starting and running this type of business.

Well then, what about the risk? How is a venture fund ever to make any money? All these choices have their pluses and minuses and are self evident. For the entrepreneur, think, Steven Jobs, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and not a veteran of multiple start up companies, all of whom have, by now, failed, been swallowed or otherwise disappeared and, if alive, are headquartered in another part of the country. Perhaps the alternative though of invest big, hold, pay dividends and interest or buy back the shares at an appreciated rate that reflects the true value of the business that was built has some merit today? Take a look at the valuation gaps between a pre-clinical candidate and the sums of money paid by Pharma for Phase 2 & 3 compounds, the gap is astronomical and it is that gap that tells us or should tell us that the current model is wrong

We should be looking more carefully at the broken institution of funding our start ups in our state and instead of letting Texas, Florida, North Carolina and California pirate our technologies and people away, find a way to fund them and keep them here. Build businesses and jobs and people will start coming back to Massachusetts or perhaps they won’t even leave after they graduate! Got any ideas? Write us. We’d love to hear from you.


Richard Gabriel is head of the Life Science practice at Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (, a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and advises General and Limited Partners as well as Corporations around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.

Topics: Biotech, Venture Capital, entrepreneurs, equity, Semaphore, technology, Life Sciences, investment, venture funds

1 of 4 - The Most Important Thing You Don't Know About Market Due Diligence

Posted by Jon Klein of The Topline Strategy Group on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 @ 9:00AM 

Blog Series: 1 of 4

When it comes to venture capital and growth equity investments, the bottom line is the top line. If a company can grow its revenue, then odds are it will generate a strong return for its investors. Market due diligence is a key component of determining the growth prospects, and therefore the return prospects, of an investment. However, the tried and true methods of market due diligence typically leave out one of the most important elements of measuring the opportunity - Pipeline Interviews.

In our experience, Pipeline Interviews - interviews with accounts that fell out of the pipeline without making a purchase - are rarely conducted during a market due diligence effort.  However, they provide vital insight into the true market potential of the company, a perspective that cannot be gained elsewhere. To understand why, we have created a series of blogs to explore the subject.  Next time we will  by looking at what is typically included in a market due diligence effort.


This article was contributed by Jon Klein. Jon is the founder and general partner of The Topline Strategy Group, a strategy consulting and market research firm specializing in emerging technologies. Jon brings a unique blend of strategy consulting and hands on operating experience to The Topline Strategy Group and works closely with Semaphore on a variety of engagements.

To read the full White Paper, please go to Semaphore News and click on the May 3, 2010 link titled - White Paper - Market Due Diligence

Topics: Venture Capital, due diligence, diligence, market diligence, growth equity investments, Pipeline Interviews

A New Biotech Funding Model is Critical to Survival of the Industry?

Posted by Richard Gabriel on Thursday, March 25, 2010 @ 2:00PM

By Richard Gabriel

So what's wrong with Biotech financing today? What will it take to bring the Biotech market out of the doldrums and back into action? If you are having trouble finding financing for your next greatest idea then the only comforting news is that you are not alone.

Venture capital technology assessments, which are advisory diagnostics we perform frequently, have revealed some interesting information. Unfortunately, when the biotech bubble first burst, right around the 9-11 time period, there were already a bunch of troubled venture capital funds. Most of these funds became challenged because the time horizon for their investment to mature is too short for the drug development cycle. Too many of these firms believed that the capital market was an exit strategy.  True, for some it was the best thing to do, and to a point it made sense for both company and investor - but not today. Following the market collapse and then the near fatal blow that the biotech market received along with the rest of the market, venture capital in the bio tech sector was and continues to be in a state of disarray. There are, however, a few funds that actually know how to make money in the biotech world.  The problem is they too are having trouble raising capital for their next funds. Overall the VC market is a nightmare for biotech with lots of rationalization expressed - too early, too late, not enough differentiation, to expensive, too long to market.  When all boiled down it shapes up as too many people that don't know how to develop a drug controlling the capital to one of America's brightest economic and social stars - medicine.

The trend for finding later stage products is so rapacious right now that VC funds are having deal flow problems. Everyone wants to jump on the band wagon, leaving the start up holding the ‘your too early for us' bag of hot air. Ask Pfizer what they think of late stage drug investment? They just dropped $215MM on a drug from Russia that showed great clinical efficacy in Alzheimer's patients in Russia and the surrounding areas and has been in use for over 10 years, and guess what? Bring it to the U.S. for clinical trials and it shows absolutely NO clinical efficacy against the placebo! Who said late stage drug development was lower risk? Somebody tell the Pfizer board.

For $215MM and some savvy investment types, Pfizer management could have invested in 10 start-up's at $5.0MM a pop and reserved $15MM each as the investments hit their milestones. Now granted the chances of a drug start up reaching the market is pretty low, but come on folks, $215MM will buy you a lot of entrepreneurial grease, commitment and energy as well as some damn good technology. In my book, I like the odds of the new technology over slumping something just because it is in Phase 2 clinical trials or worse as Pfizer found out. So much for due diligence. But why take the chance and invest in the ‘too early' crowd of drugs and technologies?

The new drugs being developed today are smarter because they will be tied to diagnostics to help physicians decide who should get the drug and who shouldn't. This new combination technology approach to drug approval could be a decidedly better approach to drug development then what most investors are doing today with their ‘closer to market' picks. Why is that the case? The FDA likes this approach, tie a diagnostic to a drug, prove the efficacy, and your going to get approved!

The long and the short of it is that in the biotech world the ‘valley of death' extends from Boston to San Diego and swings up to San Francisco and bounces its way across the globe to the Far East, Europe and the UK. The only people who seem to be getting all the money are the people in India, China and other places that are trying to eat the pharmaceutical and biotech industries' lunch in Europe and the U.S. with generics, biogenerics and more cut rate manufacturing suites than you can shake a stick at. Nothing wrong with that but hardly any one is paying attention to new technology.

Isn't it time we looked for a better financing model for Biotech products? We think so. Got any ideas? Let us know what you think might be a better way to fund Biotech!


Richard Gabriel is head of the Life Science practice at Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (, a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and advises General and Limited Partners as well as Corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.

Topics: Biotech, Venture Capital, Technology Assessment, due diligence, valley of death

The Life Sciences Success Blog: A Walk Through the Valley of Death

Posted by Richard Gabriel on Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 @ 8:15AM 

By Richard Gabriel

The Valley of Death for a Life Sciences company is that space, as coined by the NCI's Director of Small Business Innovation Research Programs Michael Weingarten, between a Phase 2 SBIR grant and the commercial success of the technology that is being funded and developed.

I've been there as an entrepreneur.  I've been there as an advisor who helps reorganize and counsel companies.  Bottom line is if management decides to follow the money and revitalize the business, the company and its shareholders will survive. I've built businesses from nothing more than purchase orders, down payments on contracts and a check book for financing.  With a smart financial manager, playing the debits and credits and working the receivables and payables, a business can survive those tough economic times. Guess what; those tough times are here again! And want to know something else?  Here's a surprise...your government is listening!

Here are some facts for you to chew on:

Life Science, medical device and services companies that have products for the Life Sciences Industry have a great opportunity with the National Cancer Institute's aggressive programs for Small Businesses under the STTR and SBIR programs. Just recently, I attended a conference in Boston hosted by the NCI's Michael Weingarten the Director of NCI SBIR Development Center; along with N. Stephen Ober, M.D. BU's Technology Development Executive Director, New Ventures. What was most striking about this half day of talks by companies that were hand picked to present by the NCI team and who were award winners of both Phase 1 and Phase 2 grants was the broad scope of the technologies and applications of those technologies. The Life Science technologies represented at the meeting were diagnostics, devices and drugs or as we like to say in the trade ‘D cubed'.

For those of you that don't know about these programs, STTR stands for Small Business Technology Transfer and is done with an institution, a not for profit, a university or medical center.  75% of the fund proceeds are given directly to the institution and the company is allowed to use 25% of the funds. The major focus of an STTR is to transfer important and meaningful technology from an institution into the marketplace through the participating company. The SBIR is known as a Small Business Innovation Research and a majority of these funds are available to the company. Collaboration with an institution is not mandatory.

SBIR phase 1 is up to $200,000 for a period of 6 months. Phase 2 SBIR's are for a period of 2 years and are upwards of $1.5 MM or about $750,000 per year. Most start up companies will be interested in the SBIR program as it helps fund research. If your company is lucky enough to win a Phase 1 SBIR and also a Phase 2 SBIR then your company is automatically eligible for the Bridge Award which is up to $3.0 MM over three years.  These funds must include an equal amount of investment capital that will help the company through the ‘Valley of Death' where many companies have perished even though they have had successful Phase 2 programs and have been, for whatever reason, unable to secure additional funding. The NCI has obviously analyzed its own program and the success and failures of its grantees and saw this valley of death and decided to do something about it!

For all the facts go to and you can find out everything you ever wanted to know about the NCI and their outstanding SBIR/STTR programs.

If your business is in trouble, call someone that has been through it because your best chance for getting through the Valley of Death is to have someone who has been there and come out the other side - more than once. Getting grants, finding new capital sources that you probably haven't thought about, reorganizing your business and focusing on revenues are some of the things an entrepreneur or funding group that holds a position in an ever downward spiraling investment can do.

You can't always sell equity or take on more debt to get your business and your shareholders out of hot water.  Sometimes it takes drastic measures - often painful.  But if a product line survives or a revenue stream is identified, sometimes that's all you need to re-trench and re-start a fundamentally strong business.  With good technology, smart road maps and proper execution you too can navigate the Valley of Death. My biggest problem as an advisor in a tough situation is "will anyone listen?" and "will the management team take action?"   In these cases you need a partner that is more than just a review and a proposal; you need a team that is all about fixing problems and initiating action.    One of the good things about surviving the Valley of Death is that you come out smarter, leaner, and more focused, with more promise and more certainty of success... almost worth taking the journey.

Send me an email and let me know your experience and


Richard Gabriel is head of the Life Science practice at Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (, a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and advises General and Limited Partners as well as Corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.


Topics: Venture Capital, technology, Life Sciences, SBIR, small businesses

Reward Offered for Industry "Killers" - Results of Annual Semaphore PE Industry Confidence Survey

Posted by Mark DiSalvo on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 @ 3:15PM  

By Mark S. DiSalvo

It seems my industry colleagues have been wrongly optimistic and also hyper cynical. At least that is the bottom line of the read I get in comparing the analysis of the 2nd annual Semaphore Confidence Survey with last year's results.  And some people have very threatening ways.

Let's start with pay.  At the start of last year 51% of the nearly 500 respondents to the 2009 Confidence Survey believed they would earn more money than the prior year.  The truth was that only 11% of this year's respondents reported they did in fact earn more than the prior year and nearly 67% earned less than the prior year.  But hope springs eternal, just like every investor is certain that they will score a tens strike on the next investment, 78% of this year's respondents believe they will earn more money than last year.  Let's check back a year from now and see whether BMW dealers will be smiling.

My peers demonstrated their optimism with their pocketbooks too (well, their LP's dollars anyway). In the beginning of 2009 8% expected not to do any deals and fully 74% thought they would make up to six investments.  The year proofed strong with no respondents reporting the intent to do no deals and nearly 98% doing up to six deals with 73% closing 1-3 deals. Further, those deals were larger than expected with 62% self reporting their deals were in excess of $25 Million in each discrete investment when they anticipated less than 17% believed their deals would be above $25 Million in size at the time of last year's survey.  As one respondent commented "I smell irrational exuberance". 

And in what are we investing?  We may be either fickle or very nimble as a business class. This year's expected top three industries were not in the top three last year. Health Care, Enterprise Technology and Financial Services were win, place and show as compared to Digital Media, Sustainable Energy/Cleantech and Infrastructure at 1, 2 and 3 last year.   Health Care moved up from 4th last year.  People are apparently smelling money and opportunity in Obama-care. As one person noted, "...when you mess with 16% of the economy something's got to break our way."

The just under 400 who did reply this year were similar to last year's mix of VC and Buy-out pros, with a decidedly higher representation of operating executives responding.  This year's mix of survey takers were very high on themselves believing that 63% were confident in their business and 77% confident in the person they see in the mirror.  Both marked increases to last year's numbers.  They even had more confidence in their bosses with 50% expressing that view - nearly double last year.

This confidence however does not extend itself to America's political leaders.  Respondents were downright, well...down on President Obama and his economic team. Only 11% expressed any confidence in the president with 55% damning his economic team (compared to 37% disapproval for Obama).   The cynicism is markedly clear when literally no one - not a single person - expressed any confidence in Congress with 65% stating no confidence in the folks under the Capital dome. Even state governments and state legislatures earned 12% confidence. This is what happens when you threaten to screw with capital gains taxes, I guess. Interestingly, the survey closed on election eve of the Massachusetts vote to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate.  I think we know how the Bay State respondents voted!

Click the link to see the highlights of the results of the this year's Semaphore Confidence Survey results.  If you want to do your own comparison, click the link to see last year's Semaphore Confidence Survey results.

While some might think the survey results rather depressing in either fact or faultily hopeful there was more than a bit of entertainment. Several wondered after the wag who famously noted in the survey comment section last year that, "PE is dead and I wish my boss were too."   Commenter's this year frequently asked after that quote master, speculating if he or she were "on the lam", noting that "if he did murder his boss it would be justifiable homicide".  Our infamous predictor never surfaced - neither admitting to the crime or the prediction. However, a new would-be industry murderer surfaced stating with equal certainty, "‘PE Killer' was wrong. It is VC that is dead. And my boss is comatose..."  I doubt that either PE or VC conclusion reflects the true state of our industry.  That said, apparently at least two of our colleagues have either a morose sense of humor or deserve to be patted down before they go to an industry conference. Maybe we should post a reward to uncover their identity.  Wanna contribute? I'll put up the first half a buck.


Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (, a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.


Topics: Venture Capital, troubled funds, private equity funds, Semaphore, general partners, limited partners, technology diligence, technology, VC, finance advice

Morning Person Lament: The Upside of the New Down

Posted by Mark DiSalvo on Tue, Nov 10, 2009 @ 12:41 PM 

I'm a morning person.  No, not the kind you are thinking.  The type that goes to bed at 2:30 or 3:00 AM.  You won't find me at a power breakfast at a fancy hotel at 6:30 AM as I'll be making breakfast for my 12 yr old daughter Celia and then jumping, OK, reluctantly climbing onto the treadmill.

My colleagues at Semaphore know that I will handle any evening event or red-eye required travel with abandon but asking me to be presentably lucid in the morning is an effort.  Nonetheless, I accepted an invitation to speak at a recent T-Cubed seminar to discuss VC consolidation.  Wheeling slowly down Rt. 93 and 95 (the roads are a lot emptier in the evening) grinding to the Foley Hoag Emerging Enterprise Center, I reflected on the VC industry.  All too often we at Semaphore in our funds-under- management practice see the worst - disengaged, incompetent sometimes outright criminal General Partners as we take over trouble Venture and Private Equity funds. On the other hand, it is pretty small proportion and many outstanding GPs work assiduously, engaging Semaphore for diligence on people, process, markets, strategy and technology to help make the right decisions.  

At 7:15 AM a room alive with beaming chattering entrepreneurs and PE professionals greeted me at the event cosponsored by RSM McGladrey, Silicon Valley Bank and Foley Hoag.

70+ of my newest bright eyed and ebullient morning friends quickly gathered, coffee cups in hand and half eaten bagels aside and got down to a "down" discussion. There's not much fun in talking about Venture Capital industry consolidation.  I'll leave my fellow panelists to speak for themselves except to say that Michael Greeley of Flybridge and Alain Hanover of Navigator are decidedly morning people in the more traditional sense, being more awake than this correspondent, as they capably presented chilling facts about the steep drop off in fund commitment (both in numbers of General Partnerships funded and the aggregate amount of dollars committed) and cogently offered the gathered entrepreneurs personal experience and simply great advice on how to deal with the adverse conditions of the moment.

I stated that we should welcome the consolidation of the industry.  All too long I have seen General Partners who should not have been funded get funds. Companies that should not have been started were flooded with millions of dollars.  Fund and effort that was unsurprisingly unproductive and portfolios that offered no return to the well meaning but under-skilled entrepreneur, venture fund partners or Limited Partners providing the investment capital.  In embracing the situation it seemed to me, to surprisingly frequent nods from the audience attending, that we should celebrate the upside of the new down circumstance. 

It should never be encouraging to an entrepreneur that they have been turned down by, say 12 VC's but then had another 40 identified in which to speak and appeal for funds.  That is unhealthy and unproductive for all parties all around.  I argue that it is a better and ultimately more profitable circumstance that fewer funds with fewer partners and analysts (but more senior partners) talking with a smaller but more talented pool of entrepreneurs seeking funds is a better situation all around.

VC funding is not for everyone and once or twice a cycle it seems like everyone can get it. It's like when your brother-in-law the car mechanic starts dabbling in spec home construction or "flip" real estate you know the housing market will crash.  The discipline of fewer funds will improve the market for every one as the funded entrepreneurs will receive money from the most appropriate VC and receive the most attention possible from them to leverage each party's cash, sweat equity and intellectual contribution.

Oscar Jazdowski capably played ring leader at our forum and he ably challenged panelist and questioners alike. What I found is that early morning people really do get the worm - and the best advice.  Those 70 early risers walked away with, at least, some level of intellectual stimulation, a contact or two, lots of metrics and particular insight on how to be prepared for the best possible funding opportunity that they may deserve. 

Some learned, disappointingly, that VC funding was not for them or that they were wholly undeserving to receive funds. No one had ever told them that before.  While perhaps stung for a moment, they got to spend the rest of a sunny bright day reflecting and acting on how and what they should do to move forward  rather than waste precious time chasing VC dollars and delaying dreams that were unattainable.  They got liberation instead of money - and that may have been worth more that any millions of dollars they hoped to have received.  At least until the cycle turns again and the VC investing in this current economic trough provide great returns resulting in allocation increases by LPs.  Then we'll get back to the point where I'll have to get up again in a future decade and give the same talk.  I can handle it once every ten years or so.  Now if only we could have a forum that started at 10 PM?  I'll buy the last round.

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (, a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and advises General and Limited Partners around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.


Topics: Venture Capital, private equity funds, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, technology diligence, diligence, VC, market diligence

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