Southeastern Washington may soon experience a surge in start-up technology companies forming thanks to a new source of seed funding. The Columbia Investor Group (CIG), a group of nine accredited investors, have launched a formal angel investor group in the Tri-Cities and joined the Washington Technology Center’s Angel Network, a connected alliance of angel groups across the state.
Bob Tippett, local business leader and founding member of the Columbia Investor Group, says that the group will bring much-needed start-up financing to early-stage companies in the Tri-Cities area looking to make the transition from concept to company.
“CIG is a dynamic group of seasoned investors,” says Tippett. “They’ve had experience running successful companies and have strong roots in the Tri-Cities community,” he adds. “They understand the dedication, passion and risk it takes to start-up and grow a business and are capable of providing both the funding and mentorship that these entrepreneurs need.”
Private investors, or “angels,” are critical to the success of start-ups. They are often the first outside financing that early-stage companies receive beyond what they can raise from family or friends. These wealthy individuals — usually with extensive business backgrounds — provide seed funding, and frequently business guidance, to companies that need capital but have not yet matured to the stage of seeking financing from venture firms or financial institutions.
Many of the CIG members the have made investments in private companies in the past, notes Tippet. However, operating as a solo investor can be time-consuming and challenging. “Forming an investment group and working with WTC’s Angel Network Coming provides our members with more investment power,” Tippet explains. “We share due diligence and collectively evaluate attractive deals. We can attract more entrepreneurs who see value in presenting to multiple investors at one time.”
CIG will host its first meeting in January at which time it will review funding proposals from two to four local companies. The group will continue to meet quarterly to hear presentations from local companies seeking angel investment.
Washington Technology Center, through its Angel Network, helps groups like the CIG get started.
WTC’s Angel Network empowers communities to stimulate their own economic growth. Connecting local investors with local entrepreneurs helps these companies grow more rapidly and creates local jobs. It’s a win-win-win for the angel, the entrepreneur, and the region.
The Tri-Cities is a good market for an angel group, notes Silverman, because it has much of the infrastructure in place to support a local technology economy. Over 250 individuals who meet the criteria for being angel investors, combined with strong intellectual property and patent generation, and solid tech employment, are good indicators of the region’s ability to start-up and grow companies. Connecting CIG with similar groups within the WTC Angel Network in Wenatchee, Yakima and Walla Walla and other angel groups in Seattle and Spokane amplifies the local infrastructure’s effectiveness.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) was also instrumental in helping the Columbia Investor Group to form in the Tri-Cities. The federal lab is a good source of intellectual capital and attracts federal dollars into the region. PNNL’s people and IP have formed the basis for more than 100 companies since 1965. “Access to early-stage investment capital from private investors is critical to help grow the local technology-based economy because there is typically a lengthy lag time from the birth of an invention until it appears in the market to generate revenue for the inventor,” says Gary Spanner, manager of PNNL’s Economic Development Office. “Surveys of local technology businesses have consistently shown the need for greater access to early-stage capital to fill this gap, which is why PNNL helped local investors and WTC get this network started,” he added.
The Columbia Investor Group is the third group in Washington to be formed with assistance from the WTC Angel Network. Existing groups include the Apple Seed Network in Wenatchee and the Bellingham Angels in Bellingham. As a member of the WTC Angel Network, the Columbia Investor Group also has the opportunity to collaborate with other member angel groups across the state. The Network provides the framework for individual groups and member investors to share information and expertise and attract better deals. Collectively, WTC’s Angel Network has screened deals from about 150 companies. More than 25 have presented to member groups and have secured an estimated $450,000 in funding so far.