Evan Ramstad, Star Tribune digital business editor, looks at how Minnesota works, explaining what’s behind the headlines and meeting with people who keep the wheel turning.

A change on the angel investing scene in the Twin Cities

Posted by: Evan Ramstad Updated: May 1, 2014 - 5:34 PM

The business of money-that-gets-business-started is rationalizing in the Twin Cities.

Our columnist Lee Schafer last weekend wrote about the difficulties a public-private business development effort called AccelerateMSP was having trouble getting support for its program. The group is set up to help entrepreneurs but it's finding that, after deciding not to be a source of capital and investment dollars for small businesses, there may not be much demand for what else it can do.

To someone starting a business, access to money is always going to be more important and provide the best return on time spent getting advice from other people. But there are other forces at work in the Twin CIties start-up community, including technology that has streamlined the capital-seeking process.

In his column, Lee noted that even one of the region's better-known helpers of new business, the medtech trade association LifeScience Alley, was on the verge of ending its angel investment program known as the Minnesota Angel Network. On Wednesday, LifeScience Alley and the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota formally announced it was shutting down the angel investing operation. It asked investors who have participated in the network and enterpreneurs who have sought money from it to turn instead to a group called Gopher Angels.

Angel investing is usually done by very wealthy people and is considered so risky that the SEC even has a accreditation process for it to protect both the investors and entrepreneurs.

LifeScience Alley and BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota cited several reasons for the change. One was that many of their initial goals when they started the Minnesota Angel Network in 2009 had been met. The second was that a number of angel networks have arisen in the area. There's Twin Cities Angels, AngelPolleNation, The Network Connect and Gopher Angels. Broadly, these groups are all local versions of "Shark Tank" and, to a degree, they compete with each other and have developed efficiencies that are useful for both entrepreneurs and investors.

Gopher Angels, for instance, is a group of just over 50 wealthy people in the Twin Cities from a variety of industries, not just medtech. Like many angel groups, Gopher Angels uses a web-based platform called Gust to sift through entrepreneurs and their ideas. Bimonthly, it invites several entrepreneurs who are looking for funds to an evening meeting attended by its investors. The entrepreneurs have a limited time to present their ideas and respond to questions from the investors. Then, at the end of the evening, the investors who want to follow up get with each other and decide how to proceed. 

Since it was started two years ago, Gopher Angels members have invested more than $2.5 million in 12 companies. "When we see a deal, we organize ourselves to do the proper due diligence and vet it," said David Russick, managing director of Gopher Angels.

He said investors who belonged to Minnesota Angel Network will be invited to join Gopher Angels. Even if they don't, they will have an opportunity to co-invest at times. "We are hoping to bring more people into a structured environment where they can funnel their money into these businesses," Russick said.

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