Early Stage Investors Converge on Tucson at Southwest Regional Angel Summit

This week Tucson played host to the 5th Annual Southwest Regional Angel Summit.  Organized by Bob Morrison of the Desert Angels and the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, the yearly Summit attracts early stage investors from Arizona, California, Utah, and New Mexico as well as from as far away as New York City and Mexico.

Summit organizer Bob Morrison welcomes everyone to the New Venture Expo

Here are some notes from the 2 day event:

  • Day 1: For the first time, an additional day of events were added with a focus on opportunities for investment in and collaboration with Mexico.  Melissa Guz wrote her first article for Startup Tucson News and covered Sunday’s events in some detail.
  • Day 2 kick off:  On Monday morning with a welcome presentations from Sarah Dickey from the Angel Capital Association.  Sarah provided a national update on trends in angel investing.  She made a special note about the success of this event (in it’s 5th year) and recognized the Desert Angels and the leadership of Chairman Curtis Gunn having funded over $6M in across over 20 companies in the last 2 years.  Most all of the funded companies are located in Tucson.
  • Side Cars: Next, Curtis and Jim Goulka of the Arizona Technology Investor Forum discussed “sidecard funds“.  Curtis and the Desert Angels have implemented a sidecar fund here in Tucson.  It allows investors to passively invest in deals by relaying on the collective domain knowledge of the group by taking investments in the sidecar, which in turn invests in certain deals made by members.  This increases engages investors who might not otherwise being investing money due to time limitations or domain expertise and ultimately results in more dollars invested.
  • Tech Transfer: The next session included Nina Ossanna of UA Office of Tech Transfer, Larry Hecker of Hecker and Muehlebach,  and Bob Morrison.  They discussed how discussed how UA OTT works, with a particular focus on supporting UA researchers as they go through the patent and commercialization.  Challenges facing UA commercialization efforts included limited resources resources available to aggressively support the commercialization of UA research.  This issue was further addressed during the lunch session with Dr. Len Jessup, Dean of the UA’s Eller College of Management who is heading UA’s effort to create Tech Launch Arizona.  This is discussed later.
  • Digital World: Chad Lehrman did a special write-up on the session discussing investing in digital, web and mobile app deals.
  • SyndicationBase Horner, Screening Panel Chairman for the Desert Angels and Jim Gouka handled the next session on how different angel groups often use “deal syndication” to partner together, share domain expertise, reduce risk and improve the ability of the groups to provide for  larger investments for portfolio companies. They also discussed the value of Gust (formerly known as AngelSoft), and how it helps with information sharing and due diligence on deals.
  • Tech Launch Arizona: Len Jessup, provided the luncheon keynote and introduced Tech Launch Arizona.  He explained that his past investigation into University technology commercialization processes allowed him to survey the best and worst practices at public research universities like the UA.  Unfortunately, the UA showed up on the “worst” list.  While the UA is among the nations top public universities with nearly $600M per year in research, it has some of the lowest revenues from research commercialization revenues.  The new plan will more closely align the Arizona Center for Innovation, the Office of Technology Transfer, the Office of Corporation Relations and the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship.  Read more information on TLA here.
  • Angels and VCs: Harry George of Solstice Capital, Tucson’s only Venture Capitalist, discussed the how the VC sector has been shrinking, going from 2500 firms at its peak to only about 500 firms today.  Additionally, fewer firms are doing early stage deals which leaves a significant gap and increases the importance of angel investment.  He also provided 3 pints of advice for entrepreneurs who are raising money:
    • Send out quarterly newsletters to your  investors, share the bad news first. Don’t try to spin it.
    • Create listening culture in your company (in your portfolio companies if you are an investor) so the CEOs learn to take advice effectively.
    • “Get to revenue fast, if not faster” (to paraphrase a quote from Micky Thompson at Post. Bid. Ship, one of Harry’s portfolio companies and an alumnus of the McGuire Center).
  • Potpourri:  This session included a series of short sessions
    • Larry Hecker discussed the JOBS Act which will be signed into law later this week legalizing certain forms of “crowdfunding” for equity deals.  The practice has previously been limited to deals that didn’t involve equity in return for the investment, typically charitable contributions.  He said that there is both good and bad news in the new law, making it easier for companies to raise money and easier to for people to invest in companies, but it comes with lots of concerns about how complicated the process may ultimately be.
    • Chuck Bolotin provided a presentation on how early stage companies are leveraging free resources to save money during tight times. Resource Examples included (1) The Internet, (2) Google and other search engines, (3) Non-vendor content providers, (4) Vendor content providers, (5) The community
    • Emre Toker of Arch Partners, discussed and some of the limitations of Tucson including limited investment capital, imbalance between business school talent and software talent, and too few incubators.  Emre and Joann MacMaster of AZCI then discussed the latest models for both for-profit and non-profit business incubators.
    • Dan Roberts: Provided an update on the efforts of Maverick Angels, a California-based angel group.
  • New Ventures Expo: Finally, the day ended with the McGuire Center’s student teams hosting the New Venture Expo, a rocket pitch and team competition.  The teams created booths and presented their business ideas to angel investor-judges who visited each booth asking critical questions.  See our write-up on the competition for a summary of teams and the contest winners!