When Angels Arrive
Startup financing takes off
JOSEPH DANIEL FIEDLER ILLUSTRATION
In the struggle to gain the financial support they need to get a great business idea off the ground, many budding entrepreneurs find that the most difficult part of their quest is just getting noticed.
While venture capitalists and other investors who are interested in putting their money into promising business startups do exist, they tend to be overwhelmed by the number of hopeful entrepreneurs clamoring for support. As a result, they tend to “fly below radar” as they look for new prospects, maintaining a low profile in order to avoid being blindsided by financial solicitations.
During the past decade, entrepreneurs in New Orleans have gained a leg up in the quest for cash as a renaissance of sorts has dawned in local business financing. Along with business advocacy groups and incubators that have operated for some time in the local area, a handful of innovative financing organizations have sprouted and are making headway both in terms of attracting promising startup ideas and matching the ideas with capital.
This month, the momentum behind grassroots business development will get another boost, courtesy of a national organization that’s heading for New Orleans.
The Angel Capital Association has chosen the city as the location for its 2015 Angel Insights Exchange Conference, which is on tap for Nov. 9-10. The event has an air of exclusivity – it is open only to members of the association – and because of that, it adds cachet to New Orleans’ growing reputation as a hub of sophisticated entrepreneurial activity.
“Angel” is a term that describes a person who provides capital to help convert untested business ideas scribbled on the back of a napkin into a form whose viability can begin to be evaluated. Such money provides early-stage support that can enable an entrepreneur to develop a new product or service to a minimal level so that its longer-term viability can begin to be assessed.
Typically, a person who receives angel funding and puts it to work successfully will at some future point seek growth money from venture capitalists or private equity investors, in order to take the idea to a higher stage.
The Angel Capital Association views its insights conference as an important adjunct to the organization’s annual summit, which has gained acclaim as the world’s largest gathering of angel investors.
While the summit “is the place to learn the A-Zs of angel investing,” the insights exchange takes a narrower focus, according to information from the association.
“Attend the ACA Summit for the breadth, attend the Angel Insights Exchange for the depth,” the group recommended in its announcement of the November conference.
Mike Eckert, a former top executive of the Weather Channel who in 2014 founded a local angel investing group called NO/LA Angel Network, says that landing the angel conference is a coup for New Orleans.
“What this does is bring more credibility to New Orleans as a serious angel investing market,” he says.
Eckert says that since moving to New Orleans from Atlanta a few years ago, he has been impressed with the pace of financing growth.
Ordinarily in a city the size of New Orleans, an angel investing group might grow to include 50 members over a period of several years. But the NO/LA Angel Network, which launched in January 2014, now has 115 investor members.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing angel groups in the country,” Eckert says.
He says the group has invested some $2 million in six startups during the past year.
The Angel Capital Association wanted to recognize New Orleans for its progress in attracting financing and thus asked the local network to host the meeting.
Eckert says that once investors from around North America have a chance to get a closer view of what’s going on in New Orleans, they will likely become more amenable to teaming up with local investors to back proposals.
As the local angel network expands, he says it’s also reaching into other parts of Louisiana with its financing help. The network now operates in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, and has partnered with groups in Shreveport.
The network’s investment portfolio of startups so far includes, among others:
• MicroBiome Therapeutics, providing pharmaceutical products that improve health status by interacting with the human microbiome in specific ways.
• MobileQubes, providing self-service, fully automated kiosks that give smartphone users places where they can power up on the go.
• Servato, providing a platform-as-service solution for remote direct-charge power management in industrial settings.
• SmartPak, designing and providing creative packaging solutions for the beverage industry.
Eckert says the angel conference in New Orleans this month will offer speakers, workshops and panel discussions, as well as ample time for networking.
For more information on the local network, visit NolaAngelNetwork.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit AngelCapitalAssociation.org for more information on the national angel association.
Angels at work
The NO/LA Angel Network encourages investment in good business ideas and supports its investor members with assistance in researching entrepreneurs’ proposals.
Members of the group are most interested in startups that complement the regional economy, including businesses in energy, data analytics, biotech, digital media, education technology, food and beverage, health care and more.
Along with their financial capital, members also bring to their portfolio companies mentoring and operational assistance to help grow sustainable businesses.