Wisconsin backs former Rhode Island pension director’s debut secondaries fund

Ballast is led by managing partner Jon Popielarski, a former director of private assets at Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island.

Ballast Equity Partners, an emerging manager focused on growth equity and venture secondaries investing, raised a hefty LP commitment for its debut fund.

State of Wisconsin Investment Board recently reported committing $30 million to Ballast Equity Partners I. As such, the $156 billion pension system accounts for nearly one-third of the offering’s $100 million target, disclosed in Form D documents filed in December.

Ballast was founded in 2022 by managing partner Jon Popielarski and general partner David Martirano.

Popielarski was formerly director of private assets at Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island, with responsibility for deploying more than $500 million annually. Along with making primary commitments, he established a direct secondaries effort, according to Ballast’s website.

Before joining ERSRI’s investment team in 2013, Popielarski was an associate at Hastings Equity Partners.

Martirano was previously a managing partner of PJC, an early-stage technology venture capital firm he co-founded in 2001. Before, he co-founded Rex Capital Ventures, the technology investment arm of a family office.

Popielarski and Martirano set up Ballast to provide tailored liquidity solutions to individuals or institutions holding interests in venture-backed companies or growth equity and venture funds. It uses a range of deal options to help generate liquidity for GPs, LPs, intermediaries, founders and other stakeholders.

In the case of fund stakes, Ballast targets investments of $1 million to $20 million for single-asset or portfolio sales. With regard to direct company interests, it targets investments of $500,000 to $5 million. The strategy is agnostic vis-à-vis stages and sectors, with the exception of biotechnology.

The global secondaries market hit a new fundraising record in 2023, Secondaries Investor reported, with roughly $118 billion secured across all asset classes, more than double the prior year’s $54 billion. Private equity secondaries accounted for 85 percent of the total raised.

In addition, last year saw a rise in secondaries deal volume to $112 billion, according to Jefferies, led by the LP side of the market. The trend included “a notable increase in supply” in venture portfolios to 12 percent from 8 percent of overall volume.

Another emerging manager in Ballast’s space is Pinegrove Capital, a joint venture of Brookfield Asset Management and Sequoia Capital’s wealth vehicle, which is reportedly seeking $2 billion for a debut offering. Capital raising will take place in the first half of this year, seeded with $500 million from the sponsors.

Ballast did not respond to a request for comment on this story.