GAYLORD — One of the biggest obstacles fledgling entrepreneurs face is raising capital to get a business off the ground. In many cases, the entrepreneur’s idea is so new that traditional forms of financing such as bank loans may not be available.
That’s where angel investors enter the picture.
According to the Angel Capital Association, angels are high net-worth individuals who invest their money in start-up companies in exchange for an equity share of the businesses in many cases.
Here in Northern Michigan, the Northern Michigan Angels (NMA) have provided over $6.7 million in investment to over 30 companies over a nine-year period.
“The best way to think about angel investing is this: companies start out with funds from the owners and their families. Then at some point venture capitalists come into the picture. Angel investors are in between those two groups,” said John Zaloudek of Williamsburg, an NMA board member.
Right now the NMA is looking to expand its membership.
“We started out in 2012 focused on Traverse City,” Zaloudek said. “We are currently expanding that geographical area for new members from Charlevoix, Gaylord, Harbor Springs and Petoskey.”
By adding new members, Zaloudek said the group will generate more investment capital and add industry and functional experience that will help NMA to assess the benefits and risks of companies it considers for investment.
There are requirements from the Securities and Exchange Commission that must be met before becoming an accredited investor. Zaloudek said investors must have a net worth of at least $1 million excluding the primary residence or an annual salary of at least $200,000 for two years.
Make no mistake, angel investing is considered a high risk opportunity. The businesses are startups with “high risk and everyone who is a member understands that,” Zaloudek said.
“Someone has an idea for a product or service and they develop it into something they think is marketable,” said Zaloudek. “They make a presentation to us and then we decide whether or not to invest in the business.”
The investment can range from $5,000 and up.
“Each member decides whether to invest or not. They don’t have to invest in a certain number each year,” added Zaloudek. “We usually have two companies pitch to the membership each month and then one usually gets an investment while the other doesn’t.”
Traverse City-based Atlas Space Operations is among the companies that the angels have invested in, pumping over $1 million into this company over a five year period.
The NMA investment enables Atlas to maintain updates to its trademarked Freedom software that is designed to enable seamless communication between clients’ satellites and Atlas’ collection of ground antennas.
Another firm is Ann Arbor-based BlueWillow Biologics, a privately held clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company that produces nasal vaccines to protect global populations from respiratory infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and food allergies.
The NMA has invested $750,000 into Promethient, Inc. over five years. The Traverse City company uses a carbon-based, flexible material called graphene to deliver “Human Scaled Climate Control” under its Thermavance brand.
In June, NMA launched a new website. Included is an easy way for start-up business founders to alert NMA about their product or service and stage of development.
Zsuzsanna Fluck of the Eli Broad Graduate School of Business at Michigan State University said there are several companies that have received angel funding at their seed stage including well known names like Uber and DoorDash. Some more recent examples include Digg, Adstage, Handshake, and Misfit Wearables.
“Angels invest their own money. Venture capitalists, in contrast, raise funds from institutions, endowments, investment offices of wealthy individuals, retirement funds, and invest ‘other people’s money’ via venture capital funds,” said Fluck.
She said angels invest a smaller amount of capital than venture capitalists (typically around $25,000-$200,000).
“They provide financing for companies too young to appear on the venture capitalists’ radar. Angels are typically willing to agree to more flexible terms. Unlike venture capitalists, they are not bound by the partnership agreement of a fund or by fund economics,” she added.
Fluck said angel investing can be useful in rural areas like Northern Michigan where venture capital funds are farther away.
“Angels play a very important role in helping to launch promising startups by providing them with funding (and advice) in the pre-revenue stage. Once the startup achieves some milestones such as a prototype or some revenue, the angels can help to connect the startups to venture capitalists for more investment and mentoring,” said Fluck.
There are other angel investment groups in Michigan besides NMA including the Blue Water Angels in Midland and the Grand Angels in Grand Rapids and Holland.