Angel investors look for more partners to back startups

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FILE PHOTO/JENNIFER GLOSE
  The staff at EggZack in Bethlehem, a startup that has been helped by Lehigh Valley Angel Investors.
FILE PHOTO/JENNIFER GLOSE The staff at EggZack in Bethlehem, a startup that has been helped by Lehigh Valley Angel Investors.

The Lehigh Valley Angel Investors network, which helps startups in the region, is looking to nearly double its number of partners.

With 21 partners, LVAI seeks a goal of 35 to 40 – an increase that would create a larger pool of investors to fund new businesses, augmenting the network’s negotiation ability and professional expertise.

Founded in late 2010 by Charter Partners’ Todd Welch and Dutch Springs founder and co-owner Stuart Schooley, along with other entrepreneurs, LVAI has since invested $594,000 in six startup companies. An angel investor is someone who provides capital for a startup, sometimes in exchange for ownership equity, as well as potentially providing advice to the fledgling company.

The investors of LVAI believe in a “pay it forward” philosophy and recognize the struggles faced by young businesses.

“All of us are entrepreneurs, and we built our companies from the ground up,” LVAI president Schooley said. “Now, we are interested in supporting like-minded people. Somewhere along the way, someone helped us, and we want to return the favor.”

This expected increase, Schooley said, is not new — 35 to 40 investors was the target number when the network began.

LVAI looks into new companies from the areas of eastern Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey that have a promising business plan or product, exit strategy for investors and potential for a minimum turnaround of at least five times the investment in five to seven years.

“It’s not easy to start up a company,” Schooley said. “Many people think you just put your name out there and people buy your product. That is not the case.”

Schooley said that many people cannot handle the ups and downs that come with running a company in an uncertain market, and that the experience and business expertise of the investors are invaluable assets.

When the startup money from family, friends and their own savings runs out, business owners turn to angel investors before venture capitalists would consider investing bigger dollars.

Among the companies LVAI has helped is EggZack of Bethlehem, a software company that offers an automated system for companies to market their products and services through various media and platforms.

Nationally, many well-known companies have been aided by angel investors. Twitter, for one, received aid from angel investors at the start.

Each member of LVAI decides individually if he or she would like to invest in the company, with a minimum of $5,000 per deal. Total network investments generally start at $50,000, and the process from screening to closure of the deal can take around five months.

LVAI is an affiliate member of Ben Franklin TechVentures on Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus, a division of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

“Hosting the Lehigh Valley Angel Investors Network ties in with Ben Franklin’s mission to help our tech-based early stage clients identify and raise follow-on funding,” said Wayne Barz, manager of entrepreneurial services at BFTP/NEP. “Partnering with other investors and economic development organizations allows us to multiply our combined efforts to accelerate the growth of the regional economy.”

For information on Lehigh Valley Angel Investors, visit www.lehighvalleyangelinvestors.com

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