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BY ERIC W. KALER AND MARK A. BARTEAU
MORTON COLLINS, a pioneering chemical engineer and venture capitalist, died after a long illness on December 14, 2021, at the age of 85.
Mort was born to Emily (née Swan) and Morton Collins Sr. ...
Mort was born to Emily (née Swan) and Morton Collins Sr. in Somers Point, New Jersey, on January 28, 1936, and raised in Linwood, NJ. He overcame significant obstacles as a child—his mother died when he was two, his father passed when he was 11, and the aunt who took him in died of cancer seven months later. He became a ward of the state, but the careful and sustained guidance of his elementary school principal led him to the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware (UD), a place where, he would later say, he found a home.
Mort worked his way through college and was part of the university’s Army ROTC program, and in 1958 he graduated with a BS in chemical engineering and received a commission as a second lieutenant. He then entered Princeton University where his dissertation work with Bill Schowalter (NAE 1982, NAS 1998) on boundary layers of non-Newtonian fluids led him to master the programming and operation of the mainframe computers of the day. He earned his MS in 1959 and PhD in 1963, both in chemical engineering, after which he was called to active duty in the Army. He trained to fly and completed over 160 missions in an F-4 Phantom II from the USS Enterprise in the South China Sea. He remained an avid aviator for the rest of his life.
Also in the years after he completed his PhD, he did some consulting for Esso and American Cyanamid, worked on weapons systems at Livermore National Laboratory, calculated statistics for opinion polls, and built a company (Scientific Research at Princeton), which he sold at a profit.
Mort’s interest in finance crystalized when he and a fellow graduate student launched an advisory service evaluating small companies being considered for investments. He realized that electronic data processing had a huge potential and that he wanted to build the resources necessary to invest in that industry. In 1968 he created Data Science Ventures (DSV) in partnership with White Weld and Company. DSV was a pioneering venture-capital firm with offices in Princeton and Newport Beach, California. DSV partnerships specialized in early-stage financing of high-technology companies, and their first homerun was with Tempo Computers, which was acquired by GTE in 1970. This fueled a series of funds that were instrumental in building the companies needed to grow new fields, including fiber optics with Times Wire and Cable and biotechnology with the Liposome Company. Mort and his partners’ focus was always on building a company to grow value sustainably and return it to their investors.
Mort was broadly recognized for his role in the birth of the venture capital industry and was a former president, director, and chair of the National Venture Capital Association. His service to the nation included chairing President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and serving as a technology policy advisor to President George H.W. Bush. In New Jersey he served on the Governor’s Commission on Science and Technology and the Governor’s Superconductivity Roundtable. He was a member of the National Academies’ Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable’s Working Group on New Alliances and Partnerships.
He believed strongly in giving back to his alma maters and advised them in many ways. He was the inaugural chair of the advisory council of the UD Chemical Engineering Department in 1984 and served for 28 years, leading efforts to secure funding for the department’s facilities and graduate programs. He played several other advisory roles there as well as at Princeton University.
In addition to his election to the National Academy of Engineering in 2016, he was named to the UD Alumni Wall of Fame in 1988 and received the university’s Medal of Distinction in 1989, the highest nonacademic award bestowed by the UD board of trustees. In 2015 he was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Delaware, its highest academic honor.
Mort was predeceased by his wife Carole Shreve and their daughter Lisa, and his second wife Eva Karacsony. He is survived by his wife Donna Collins; children Kristy (David), Melissa (Mike), Quincey (Rob), and Tyler (Stephanie); and 13 beloved grandchildren.