It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that an entrepreneur in possession of innovative technology must be in want of an angel investor.
Yet the process of finding an angel who is willing to invest more than just capital—a person who possesses the proper character as well as expertise, experience, interest, and passion—is a complicated affair with all the makings of great Romantic literature. Think in terms of a novel that is ostensibly about matchmaking (entrepreneur meets angel; entrepreneur loses angel, etc.) but more broadly describes the social hierarchies and mores of our time. Misunderstandings abound in the parlors of the Internet, and a tweet to win the heart of Dave McClure, after all, must be done just so.
The nuances of this courtship ritual are particularly arcane in San Diego. For entrepreneurs, the paradox of San Diego is that angels flock here like snowbirds in the winter—and yet they seem as difficult to find as a California Clapper Rail (an endangered shorebird found chiefly in Northern California).
“I don’t know what it is about San Diego,” says Allison Long Pettine, who is among a handful of local angels working to strengthen the ecosystem for tech innovation in San Diego—and to draw her fellow investors into the light. “There is a lot of hand-holding going on. Nobody wants to make the first move.”
The reticent nature of San Diego’s angels makes them difficult to approach, even if they belong to the San Diego chapter of Southern California’s Tech Coast Angels, which claims to be the largest angel investment organization in the United States. Pettine and others also lament that San Diego’s angels rarely act in concert. “There are all these people doing things, but they are just out there doing them on their own,” she said.
As a result, Pettine and others have been working to strengthen the ties among San Diego’s angels. She believes the innovation ecosystem here could benefit from the power of networking.
As TechStars founder David Cohen said recently in San Diego, “The way early stage activity is getting financed today is through networks”—and the networking effects can be as powerful as anything happening in social media on the Internet.
“If you become part of the network, you contribute more than money—you contribute ideas,” Cohen said. “The investors and VCs who come in as mentors are also more likely to invest in the companies they’re seeing. So being part of the network is what gets you exposure to the emerging technologies and the deals.”
Cohen predicts that in the not-too-distant future, venture capital investors won’t learn about emerging technology startups by getting pitched. They’ll learn instead by getting involved with startups from inception—an approach already taken in many of the life sciences startups funded by San Diego’s Avalon Ventures.
An appreciation for the synergies of this network effect has led Pettine and others in San Diego to help mentor local entrepreneurs, and to encourage San Diego’s angel investors to build ties to angel networks beyond San Diego. Xconomy has supported these efforts, in part by working with Brant Cooper of San Diego Tech Founders to organize events featuring prominent innovation leaders.
In addition, as you can see above, I’ve put together a slideshow of prominent San Diego angels that includes a brief summary of their investment philosophy, technology focus, and a few recent deals. John Belmonte, who emerged last year as a key figure in the local startup ecosystem, told me he’s been on an angelic hiatus since May, when he returned to the San Diego based Active Network (NASDAQ: ACTV) as interim CEO. He plans to return, however, and I’ve saved a place for Belmonte in our slideshow. I’m happy to add other angels to the slideshow who are active investors in technology innovation; just send me the pertinent details.
We hope this slideshow will help strengthen the angel network in San Diego, and also serve as a resource for local entrepreneurs. But I won’t respond to requests from entrepreneurs seeking an introduction to the angels featured in our slideshow. You’re supposed to use the power of your own network for that.
Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here.
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