Newly formed angel groups bring local start-ups greater access to capital
By Steven Overly,
A flurry of seed-stage investment groups have formed in the Washington region, providing young companies in the area with new sources of much-needed start-up capital.
The groups are largely comprised of people with high net worth, commonly referred to as angels, who provide a fledgling firm with money to get off the ground and make connections to potential customers and partners.
The rise comes as the cost of starting a business has fallen considerably in recent years, in part because of lower technological costs. A company that once required millions to start often needs just a fraction of that today.
“That opens up a much broader universe of people to be potential angels, and it also means angel investing becomes that much more important in relation to traditional venture,” said Evan Burfield, chairman of Startup D.C.
Burfield is also one of the minds behind K Street Capital, a newly formed angel group comprised primarily of professionals from fields such as policy and media.
The group gathers for a monthly dinner at which two or three entrepreneurs pitch their ventures. A typical investment falls between $50,000 and $75,000, Burfield said, and can include money from the group or individuals.
Members include former Bush administration spokesman Tony Fratto, TroopSwap chief executive Blake Hall, vice president and general manager of The Huffington Post’s D.C. bureau Peter Cherukuri, and Penny Lee, president of public affairs firm Venn Strategies.
K Street Capital helps to bridge a divide that entrepreneurs in Washington’s tech community often lament: Much of the wealth is held in industries such as government contracting, law and real estate, yet those people have little exposure to tech firms and operate in separate social circles.
Fratto, now a partner at policy consultancy Hamilton Place Strategies, has had little interaction with the tech sector in the past. His contacts in policy and politics, however, could help tech firms with an eye on that market, he said.
“As a relatively small investor in terms of cash, how could I help by bringing my networks to bear and my knowledge? That part of angel investing is actually the most exciting for someone like me,” he said. “That’s where most of my value is.”
Standup Capital has also begun cutting checks in recent weeks. Founder Simon Rakoff, a general partner in Fortify.vc’s seed-stage investment fund, said the group intends to pump anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000 into promising firms.
But Standup Capital aims to distinguish itself from other investors in its vetting process. Rakoff said a member of the group will perform due diligence on a company before its executives formally present to all of the investors.
As a result, all of the companies that pitch already have a tentative seal of approval from at least one member of the group. That shortens the time line to closing on a deal and many firms will walk out with a check on the same night they pitch, Rakoff said.
“I’m probably making my first core and gut decision based not on the person and personality I see in the pitch, but the facts I’m able to surmise from the diligence process and research I do beforehand,” Rakoff said.
The firms join other groups that have already laid down roots in the region, including the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center Angels and Center for Innovative Technology GAP Funds.
Blue Tiger Ventures, an early-stage investment firm helmed by NewBrandAnalytics founder Neil Kataria and former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, has also taken shape in recent weeks.
“We hope that what we’re all doing together is effectively baking a larger pie,” Rakoff said. “By that I mean collectively all of these different angel investment groups are making more capital available to companies who need and deserve it in the region.”
“If we do that there are some great byproducts of that, including more innovation coming out of the D.C. area.”