Angel investors fly in Kelowna

FRIDAY, 09 NOVEMBER 2012 18:00 STEVE MACNAULL, Kelowna Daily Courier
STEVE MACNAULL/The Okanagan Saturday
Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray, left, VA Angels Okanagan chapter president Randy Lennon and VA Angels founder and CEO Randy Thompson attended the launch of the Okanagan chapter of the venture capital group.
Angels have come to the Okanagan and they’ve brought money with them. These are the type of angels that have venture capital to invest in promising start-up companies and probably got their name because they are like a little piece of heaven when they arrive at a cash-strapped businesses with an infusion of funds and advice.
“The Okanagan has the two sides of the equation,” said
VA Angels founder and CEO Randy Thompson at the launch of the Okanagan chapter in Kelowna this week.
“It has the investors – or the angels. After all, this area has the highest per capita concentration of millionaires in the country. And it also has a lot of good start-up companies that need money.”
When it came time for VA Angels (formerly Venture Alberta Forum) to expand from its foothold in Calgary and Edmonton, it looked at a several other cities in Western Canada.
Vancouver was considered, but there are already angel groups there.
So VA Angels decided on Kelowna and Winnipeg because both didn’t have existing angel networks and both tend to be hotbeds of new business ideas.
“And to be honest, I wanted to move to Kelowna,” said Randy Lennon, who was involved with the Calgary and Edmonton groups and is now president of VA Angels Okanagan.
VA has already lined up 11 Okanagan-based angels, who will join the 55 in Edmonton and Calgary.
“Angels are special people,” said Lennon.
“They know the risks of investing in start-ups. With 10 investments, three or four may not make it, three or four may do OK, and one or two may be real home runs.”
Besides putting up money, angels are also willing to help out the companies by being mentors, offering advice and/or sitting on the company’s board.
One of these angels is Darren Jacklin, president of Darren Jacklin Seminars, who’s originally from Vernon, but now lives in Vancouver.
“I now have a company that puts on productivity seminars all over the world,” said Jacklin.
“It’s time for me to give back. When I started my company 17 years ago I’d never even heard of angels. I wish I had
because I could have used the help. I ended up learning by making a lot of mistakes.”
The first forum in Kelowna is coming up Thursday, where four start-ups will pitch to those 11 angels.
One of the four start-ups is Kelowna’s What the Fast, a technology company that makes software that speeds up access and response times for online video games.
The four start-ups also have the opportunity to pitch in Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg to their groups of angels.
“When angels see a good company, generally 10 or so will put in $25,000 to $50,000 each,” Lennon explained.
“A great example is Calgary healthy baby food maker Baby Gourmet. Nine angels put in a total of $350,000 and saw the company grow from one woman (founder Jenny Broe) making baby food in her kitchen and selling it at farmers markets, to a business that now has $10 million in annual sales. Jenny also just won Ernst & Young’s entrepreneur of the year award.”
VA angels in the past has also invested in companies ranging from Clear Flow (dirty water clean up) and Petro Jet (drills for oil and gas exploration) to Innovative Trauma Care (clamps to close wounds in the field) and Drink Me Beverage.
Along the way, angels also invested in Kelowna-based SignaLink, a plug-in fire alarm.
It was SignaLink president Ed Alfke who went on to form a similar group, called Okanagan Angels, in 2005.
However, as Alfke travels more, Okanagan Angels has
petered out and VA Angels has taken over, naming Alfke as honourary chairman.
The Kelowna office of MNP chartered accountants and business advisers is sponsoring the Okanagan chapter of VA Angels.
“We see a natural synergy of partnering with a well established group like VA Angels,” said MNP partner Karen Christiansen.
“We’re all interested in the same things – helping business and growing the economy.”