Zapproved a "winner" for Willamette MBA Angel Fund

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Rob Wiltbank’s research indicates that when it comes to the angel fund investment model, just 10 percent of the outcomes will recoup more than 10 times the initial investment.

Fortunately, Wiltbank, a contributing associate professor of strategic management who’s been teaching the Willamette University Angel Fund course since 2009, has handily beat those odds with Zapproved, a company he helped finance with his students back in 2010.

Zapproved, which creates software that allows corporate legal departments to manage workflow surrounding evidence preservation for lawsuits, has achieved a 14X (making 14 times the money put in).

Against the harsh reality of angel investing that more than half of investments will fail to give back your money, Wiltbank says, along with the fact that the course has had a handful of companies go out of business, Zapproved has emerged as the program’s big “winner.”

“That’s what makes it fun, for sure,” he says.

Zapproved made news in mid-2017 after selling a majority stake to Vista Equity Partners. This funding will help Zapproved, a Portland-based legal software company, grow its team and invest in product development. 

All money raised from Angel Fund investments goes back into the course, ensuring Willamette’s continued ability to deliver this one-of-a-kind consequential learning experience. Students enrolled in the course attend an array of angel investor group meetings in pairs, where they evaluate companies pitching for funds and make investment decisions with Wiltbank.

The students are not interns, but actual investing members of the groups – a highly unique feature of the experience not found at any other university, Wiltbank says.

“They tend to have a really good understanding of entrepreneurship,” Wiltbank says of his students. “The whole class requires that they integrate all the different aspects of getting an MBA: marketing, human resources, finance, strategy, sales, etc. They’re smart, highly capable second-year MBA students.”

Each year, Wiltbank hosts a get-together with all current and past Angel Fund students and the CEOs of the companies they’ve invested in. Meant as an informal way of keeping in touch as well as introducing past investments to new students, the event also fosters alumni engagement, acting as a sort of reunion.

“This subset of students is very, very good,” says Wiltbank. “It’s competitive to get into this class, so we have a great set of students who have gone through it over the years, and it’s a great chance for them to keep in touch with each other and with the companies.”

Named a “Top 10 U.S. entrepreneurship class” by Inc. magazine, the Angel Fund course is guided by an advisory board of experts and backed by a designated angel fund. Learn more about the program on the Angel Fund website.