A surprising hotspot for angel investing

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I recently attended the Angel Capital Association Summit in Boston. It was the fourth time I’ve been to the event, and I must admit that I’ve seen remarkable growth and maturation of the event and the ACA over the years. The Boston Summit was by far the best attended, with more than 300 participants filling several Cambridge-area hotels.

Like most such meetings, the event included an informative, spiral-bound book with the agenda and a list of all the participants. Just to amuse myself I decided to analyze where the participants came from. My thinking was that the geographic distribution of the participants is probably a fairly accurate proxy for the geographic distribution of angel investing activity.

It’s no surprise that Massachusetts and the New England area were well-represented at the event given that it was held in Boston. So I excluded that region from my analysis as proximity was likely partly responsible for the large numbers. Outside of New England, the state with the most representatives at the Summit was – no surprise – California. The number and diversity of angel investor groups and so-called “superangel” investors in California is impressive.

There are groups that specialize in life sciences, software technologies, energy, and several other categories. The benefits that result from angel-group specialization are numerous. Life science investing, for example, requires more capital, generally, than software or social media investing. It also requires deep domain expertise and connections to follow-on investors.

I was surprised to discover that the state with the second highest number of representatives at the Summit was: Ohio. Ohio?

Yes, the state was second only to California and the range and depth of the angel groups and people from Ohio was as impressive as it was surprising. Something must be happening in that Midwestern state and it might be useful to try to determine what it is. When I think about the next hotspot for investing I certainly don’t think of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, or Toledo.

The biggest surprise, I would have to say, is the relatively large contingent from Oklahoma.

Oklahoma City, in particular, had a number of folks on hand and I had the good fortune to meet with a few of them. As it turns out, the State of Oklahoma has set aside funds for private equity investing, and a group from Oklahoma City was managing a sizable chunk of that capital for local investing purposes. Apparently, the state has realized that catalyzing venture development is an important part of its overall economic development portfolio.

The federal government also recognizes the importance of capital in the overall push to create more startups nationwide. A presentation from the director of President Obama’s “Startup America” program listed its top three features: Capital formation, entrepreneurship education, and industry specialization. Startup America is creating new capital for venture development via old vehicles. It has resuscitated the Small Business Investment Company program with several billion dollars, and it has re-invested in the Small Business Innovation Research program. It might be interesting to look into how to establish a local and/or regional SBIC for Southern Colorado.

In addition to the broad domestic participation at the summit, this was the first one that I’ve attended with extensive international participation. There were multiple representatives from each of the nations of Poland, Chile, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Germany, France, Australia, and New Zealand.

The best story at the event was that told by the PhD graduate from MIT. His research at MIT focused on a new treatment for diabetes. Rather than work for a large company upon graduation, the guy decided to launch his own company and continue to develop the technology.

He raised a total of $10M, all angel money – no venture capital. The company he founded was sold in December 2010 to Merck for a tidy sum of $500M. Needless to say, he told this story with a huge smile on his face. One of his original angel investors was on the stage with him, and he had an equally wide smile.

It is truly heartening to see the growing interest in private equity investing. A little known fact is that angel capital has caught up to venture capital, with each injecting about $26B annually into promising new ventures. New rule changes will make angel investing even more important in the coming years.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the number of attendees from Colorado: One.

Duening is director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Business and Administration at UCCS. He can be reached at tduening@uccs.edu.