As a startup scene begins to emerge, an angel group often emerges with it.
That’s exactly what happened here in Buffalo, as the Western New York Venture Association recognized the growth of our local entrepreneurial ecosystem and wanted to invest in our community.
The Buffalo Angels has almost 70 members and have invested more than $3.5 million in local startups since 2013. This has resulted in millions more in co-investment and follow-on investment, helping fuel high-growth startups that are garnering attention from investors across the country.
Learn more about the leader of the Buffalo Angels, Jack McGowan, and how you can get involved with the WNY Venture Association and Buffalo Angels in today’s Founder Friday!
How did the Buffalo Angels start up?
The Buffalo Angels are a sub-group of the Western New York Venture Association. The WNYVA started way back in 1990, when a small group of visionary volunteers identified the need for a forum to promote interaction between startups seeking funding and potential investors. There were few startups and even fewer angel investors at the time, but the WNYVA slowly grew in membership and in the quality of presentations at its forums.
What types of programs and services do the Buffalo Angels provide to startups?
The WNY Venture Association holds five forums per year. These forums include twenty-minute presentations (ten-minute pitch and ten minutes of Q&A) by two pre-screened companies as well as a few one-minute pitches by companies that are early in the funding process or don’t fit the “high-growth” profile that most of our investors want to see. Not only are presenters introduced to potential investors, but they also get exposure to potential customers, employees, interns, collaborators, and valuable business professionals. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is well-represented at WNYVA forums.
We provide coaching sessions to help startups refine their presentations before they pitch at the WNYVA forum. Our members also volunteer as judges and mentors for business plan competitions such as 43North and others.
When was the ‘aha’ moment when you realized that Buffalo needed a dedicated angel investing group?
People who attended WNY Venture Association meetings enjoyed the presentations and the networking. A few of the presenting companies received investment from people they met at WNYVA forums, but there was no process to coordinate follow-on meetings among investors to collaborate on due diligence and co-investment. Beginning in 2003, the WNYVA began holding additional meetings that were limited to Accredited Investors (annual income of at least $200,000 or net worth of at least $1 million, excluding their primary residence) and selected companies. These closed meetings allowed more detailed, confidential discussion with the presenting companies. The group came to be known as the Buffalo Angels.
What has been the biggest accomplishment for the Buffalo Angels to-date?
Our members have invested over $3.5 million in local companies over the past five years. This investment has helped leverage more than $14 million of co-investment and follow-on investment received by our portfolio companies from other funding sources.
Goals for the next year? Three years?
We are always looking for new Accredited Investors to join the Buffalo Angels. We currently have sixty-eight members. The more members, the more capital that is available to invest in promising companies in Western New York. The ultimate goal is to have our portfolio companies achieve successful financial exits that provide strong return on investment to our members and also benefit company founders and employees.
Our members all live in or have roots in Western New York. They want to help companies create jobs and other opportunities in our region.
How do you do it? What drives you?
I am a Buffalo native, went away to school (quite a while ago), and chose to return and make a career in WNY when many others were leaving. The entrepreneurial ecosystem has grown and is now generating results. It’s exciting to be a part of this effort. I also love meeting talented entrepreneurs with exciting companies and being able to help them succeed.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
As Mark Cuban says, “sales cures all.” Sales are the best source of cash for your business and demonstrate that customers will buy your product or service. Most investors want to see traction before they will invest, so getting to sales as quickly as possible is key. As the old saying goes “nothing happens in business until something gets sold.”