Thousands Return to Florida Conferences

Canceled by the coronavirus in 2021, hedge fund conference time in January in and around Miami Beach flourished this year, but this time with five, not three, capital-introduction conferences squeezed into just 15 days.

Each of the five attracted hundreds or more attendees, and for the first time digital-asset managers showed up in force and attracted large numbers of interested allocators. In terms of activity, iConnections – a newcomer to the conference scene run by a team that left rival Context Summits – had by far the largest attendance and number of meetings. Connections picked up nearly 200 registrants just before its event, while numerous professionals attended more than one conference.

Connections, led by founder Ron Biscardi, attracted some 2,260 attendees last week to the sprawling Fontainebleau Miami Beach for an event that included more than 100 speakers at a day-long session of panel discussions on Jan. 24. It was followed by 6,850 half-hour, in-person meetings between managers and investors over the next two days, as well as 1,200 virtual meetings. In all, it featured 550 investment firms, of which 180 run more than $1 billion, and 725 individual allocators.

The in-person numbers are lower than what Context saw in 2019, when Biscardi last ran that conference business. It peaked at perhaps 9,500 meetings that year, all in-person, and drew 2,300 attendees.

But Connections’ 2022 showing would seem a stand-out at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still going strong. Covid prevented significant numbers of allocators and managers from arriving from Europe and Asia, as well as from larger U.S. organizations that limited travel. At times, it wasn’t clear that hedge fund January would even occur this year in Florida. Even so, Connections saw attendees from 29 countries.

While every year tends to have a different set of managers most favored by investors, digital-asset managers ranaway with that title this year. Biscardi said there were 26 digital-asset managers at his event. On average, they had 28 meetings each out of a possible total of about 36. Eventwide, the average manager at Connections had 15 meetings over two days.

Context, meanwhile, was displaced by iConnections’ takeover of its longtime Fontainebleau location and moved 20 miles north to the ]W Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa in Aventura, from Jan. 24-26. Nonetheless, it drew a respectable gathering given the disruption to its business. A Context spokesman said 1,300 attended the event, with hundreds more watching online. For next year, Context evidently has chosen a hotel in Miami proper, InterContinental Miami, and plans to hold its conference a week earlier than it did this January.

The Managed Funds Association, the major lobbying association for the hedge fund industry, said its annual MFA Network event in Miami Beach, from Jan. 24-26, “exceeded all expectations” and was its second largest. The MFA didn’t provide specific attendance or meeting numbers, but that event generally attracts many of the largest hedge fund managers and allocators, and overall attendees numbered in the hundreds.

Another newcomer to the January Florida conference scene in 2022 was Gaining the Edge, which ran about a week earlier than the others, from Jan. 19-21, in West Palm Beach. Agecroft Partners’ Don Steinbrugge, who helmed the event, said that of 950 registrants, close to half attended in-person and the remainder met virtually.

“Covid has been absolutely devastating to in-person events, and it’s been devastating to us,” Steinbrugge said in disarming opening remarks he made to attendees on Jan. 19. Half of the scheduled panelists for the seminars held on the first day had to be replaced, and Steinbrugge himself moderated an extra session because a staff member contracted Covid before the event began.

Steinbrugge said his event had planned to be a hybrid one that would hold virtual events over three weeks and in-person meetings over three days. He said he plans to host a similar event in Florida around the same time next year.

Ending today is Morgan Stanley’s annual hedge fund conference at the Breakers Palm Beach resort and hotel. The most exclusive of the five capital-introduction events, the conference caters mostly to the bank’s favored hedge fund clients and attracts a set of allocators eager to attend.

While all five of the cap-intro events required attendees to be vaccinated, and MA Network required attendees to state daily if they were suffering from any symptoms of Covid-19, only the Morgan Stanley event asked attendees to take daily Covid tests.

These Funds Bucked Healthcare Slump

While many healthcare fund managers were brought to their knees last year, a few of them substantially outperformed.

A fund run by Parkman Healthcare Partners soared 24%, one run by Sio Capital gained 22.7% and Driehaus Capital’s Driehaus Life Sciences fund rose 6.9%, according to a report sent to allocators last month by the prime-brokerage unit of investment bank Cowen. The same report cited an undisclosed healthcare fund that gained a whopping 49%, though that fund had only launched last April.

The figures compare favorably to the 22.4% gain of the S&P Healthcare Index, the 1.2% loss of the HFRI Equity Hedge Sector Healthcare Index and the 20.5% drop of the XBI, an index of biotechnology stocks.