In a tough economy, angel investors are more cautious than ever. But it's still possible to find funding. Here's how
Where would we be without angel investors? In 2007, 258,200 angels pumped $26 billion into 57,120 companies, making these wealthy individuals the single largest source of start-up capital, according to the University of New Hampshire's Center for Venture Research. But despite their ethereal name, angel investors are all too human. Their money comes from their investment portfolios, and theirs, just like yours, have been hammered. That's sparking big changes in the way angels invest. Even in a tough economy, deals can still be done, but don't expect them to happen in a hurry. Angels are pretty spooked these days. "Even highly diversified investors may be seeing a 20 to 40 percent decrease in the value of their stock portfolios," says Michael Gruber, founder and managing director of Cornerstone Angels, a Chicago-based angel group. Further complicating matters is the fact that many angels are entrepreneurs themselves and may be more concerned with shoring up their companies than with helping you build yours.
As a result, they are being a lot more cautious than they have been in years past. The Center for Venture Research says investments through the second quarter of 2008 totaled $12.4 billion, up 4.2 percent from the same period in 2007. But just 23,000 ventures received those funds, a 3.8 percent drop. Why? "There's safety in numbers," says Marianne Hudson, executive director of the Angel Capital Association. Angels, she says, see syndication not only as a way of reducing risk but also as a means of ensuring that good companies are properly funded.
If you are looking for funds, be prepared for a buyer's market. That means requests for more control as well as lower valuations. "I'm not saying we are going to be angels from hell, but we are not going to be stupid about how to price," says John May, managing partner of New Vantage Group in Vienna, Virginia. On the other hand, says Bill Warner, chairman of the Triangle Accredited Capital Forum in North Carolina, "no angel wants to put an entrepreneur in the position of not being able to reap benefits from a successful exit."
In the pages that follow, Inc. provides a map to the new landscape of angel investing, including a directory of the nation's leading investors. The challenge is getting those reluctant angels on your team -- whether you have never landed an investment or you are going back for a second round.
Staff editor KASEY WEHRUM has written for Inc. magazine on subjects ranging from the businesses behind professional bull riding to gadget inventor and father of the infomercial, Ron Popeil. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Worth, Budget Travel, and on MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn.