The Willamette University Angel Fund has hit a fresh and exciting stride, continuing to grow and expand nearly a decade after launch.
With two new faculty, unique business opportunities on the horizon and a still-fresh buzz from a highly successful investment in a legal software company, the Angel Fund remains one of the most intensely hands-on experiences in the MBA program.
One of the new faculty is Professor of Strategic Management Stuart Read. He is both a veteran of six startups and has a wealth of entrepreneurship research under his belt, so working on the Angel Fund is a natural fit. He joins Willamette MBA Contributing Associate Professor of Strategic Management Rob Wiltbank, who’s been teaching the Angel Fund course since its inception in 2009, in carrying on the course’s tradition of embedding students into some of the west coast’s top angel groups to make wise and profitable business decisions.
It’s a model that’s working: In eight years, the fund has nearly doubled its money, with about $400,000 invested and over $700,000 in returns.
The impact is also substantial. “Though we sometimes feel like a blip—a little school in a great, big sea—we’ve now got money in over 50 exciting startup companies up and down the west coast.” says Read.
Also new in 2017 is the addition of Willamette University Law School Adjunct Professor Scott Davidson MBA/JD ’87 as the Angel Fund course’s third instructor. Davidson’s insight as a lawyer with decades of experience working with startup teams and entrepreneurs, Read says, offers the student a more complete, holistic view of early-stage investment and incubation.
“The opportunities for angel-level investment are constantly changing,” Read says, and to that end, the Angel Fund is always seeking to broaden its network. This year, the Angel Fund started a new relationship with Pasadena Angels of southern California, which introduced an unfamiliar but exciting investing opportunities into the mix.
“In LA it’s all about entertainment—movies and toys,” says Read. “Those are areas where the Angel Fund has not had much exposure in the past and it’s great for our students to gain visibility beyond the more traditional technology areas which attract a good fraction of angel funding.”
Along those lines, the Angel Fund’s latest investment is in a company called Move2Play, which seeks to buck the prevailing sedentary, screen-based toy trend of this generation with its unique line of interactive plush toys that sense and encourage physical movement.
“Every investment fund thinks they have an angle, a perspective that gives them some differentiated point of view on investing,” says Read. “Our perspective is based on the research we’ve done over the past 15+ years. That’s the way we filter our companies. So far it seems be working, which is reassuring to see.”
The Angel Fund class will not appeal to every student. It demands real time interactions with entrepreneurs and investors at angel group meetings, detailed due diligence on possible investments and the real angst that comes with writing a big check for an uncertain opportunity. But for students who are interested and willing to work hard, it is a unique glimpse into how new ventures come to be.