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A sold-out crowd convened Friday at the 18th annual Wharton Private Equity and Venture Capital Conference in Center City.

Capped at 600 people, the conference attracted approximately 350 business students and 250 industry professionals — 100 of whom were Wharton alumni.

“The private-equity industry in America is the greatest industry in the world,” said Bruce Rauner, a keynote speaker.

In an increasingly difficult economy, Rauner said, private-equity firms play a large role in creating jobs and jump-starting stagnant businesses.

“We have a moral obligation to give back to the community that has blessed us with the opportunity to generate wealth and create prosperity,” he said.

Private equity, which involves firms investing directly in private businesses instead of public stocks, has garnered media criticism recently.

Several speakers echoed the sentiment that it is now time for the private equity industry to become more active proponents of an industry that few outside the business really understand.

Many were not worried, believing their limited partners, are sophisticated enough to discern news from fact and that the media coverage of the industry will subside.

Rauner, a principal at the Chicago-based private-equity firm GTCR, spoke about his passion for education and he and his wife’s joint endeavor to help revamp the Chicago public-school system.

A more overt theme is how the economy in 2012 will fare and how the private equity industry will be impacted. The conference title is “Finding The Edge: Succeeding in a Turbulent and Increasingly Competitive Global Landscape.”

All industry experts agreed that the private-equity landscape has changed and it is now much harder to profit than in previous years.

The 38-member MBA organization organized and hosted the conference. The event featured four keynote speakers and three sessions of ten panels.

Second-year Wharton MBA student Sanaz Memarsadeghi, one of the co-chairs of the conference, said, “My vision … was to create a forum where students and professionals could discuss and debate key issues and topics impacting the [private equity and venture capital] industry.”

Haoming Chang, a second-year Duke University business student, said she attended similar conferences in the past at Columbia and Harvard universities but thought that Wharton conference was more high-profile and featured “the superstars of the private equity world.”

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