When an entrepreneur says, “I need to go out and get venture capital,” what does that really mean? In one sense, ‘venture capital’ could be defined as any type of financing for an early stage company. But entrepreneurs who believe that they need to go out and contact Venture Capital Firms for their capital needs, can be starting down a long and frustrating path. Many of these firms are not terribly interested in seed stage or pure start-up companies, preferring to jump on board when the company has achieved a certain number of milestones in product development and securing customers for the product. And no amount of persuasion by the entrepreneur can get the Venture Capital Firm’s partners to deviate from their investment focus.
So who does assist the usually cash strapped start-up entrepreneur?
The financial life cycle of a company often looks like this:
Stage Need for Capital Amount Needed Likely Source
Seed Organizing company $ 50,000 Friends, family, yourself
Start-up Product development, launch $500,000 Angel investors
First stage Market penetration $2 million Angels & Venture Capital Firms
Second stage Expansion $10 million+ Venture Capital Firms
Wealthy individuals, often termed angel investors, are by far the most important source of equity capital for early-stage companies. Typically, these individuals have been successful entrepreneurs themselves, and as such have a keen understanding of the trials and tribulations of building a company. In the ideal situation, an angel investor, or a group of angels, can provide much more than financing for an entrepreneur: the angels can often bring organizational, technical, marketing, and financial expertise. And of critical importance, the angels often have valuable contacts with potential customers, vendors, and even sources of capital for the next stage in the company’s development.
Angels vary widely in their investment experience and their approach to working with companies they invest in. Some invest only in companies related to there area of expertise; in other words, an angel who built and sold an enterprise software company would look for other enterprise software companies. In general, however, angels are willing to consider investments in a broad range of companies: high-tech, traditional or “old economy” companies, distribution, manufacturing, service.
From the entrepreneur’s standpoint, there are two major difficulties with obtaining angel financing: how to find the angels in their local community, and how to handle the negotiations. Finding them is difficult because, in the past angel, investing has been done on an extremely informal basis.
The entrepreneur’s company was referred to the angel through a mutual friend or business acquaintance. And angels do not seek publicity for their investment activities, for fear they will be overwhelmed with entrepreneurs seeking capital. There are no reliable directories of individual angels as there are for venture capital firms. For the entrepreneur, this means that the best way to find angel investing is through diligent networking in their local business community, attending events and letting people know that the company is seeking financing. Contacting angel networks, and participating in angel online matching services, both described below, are additional ways to meet angel investors.