Startups in Hartford, New Haven, Worcester, Vermont, Western New Hampshire, and my own Western Massachusetts often struggle to get funding from the investors in Boston and NYC. I understand why: there is so much good deal flow in those places that investors don’t need to look farther to find great opportunities.
Meanwhile, because of our low population density and a cultural norm of meeting in person, there are few parts of the CT River Valley (From New Haven, CT up to Burlington, VT) that have enough angel investors to form and sustain a group. The groups that formed are small, so they tend to write smaller checks and have less specialization than our counterparts in Boston and NYC.
COVID-19 has changed everything. Our group, River Valley Investors, switched to meeting online back in March. Originally this was so that we could continue to serve our members and entrepreneurs. But now it is starting to look like the path we should keep. Within a month of switching to online meetings, we signed up our first member from Worcester (an hour away by car). At this month’s meeting, we had more than a dozen potential members from Connecticut attending. I’ve now had conversations with many regional leaders up and down the CT River Valley who have long wished for a way to aggregate enough angel investors to have an impact.
We are stronger together. Our cultures are more similar to each other than they are to the big cities. And perhaps most importantly, we know there are great startups in our region that the big cities are overlooking. If we work together, we can fund these companies and see them create prosperity in our communities and financial returns for us.
If you are interested in investing in startups in the CT river basin, I invite you to learn more about us and attend a meeting.
RVI has two presenters scheduled for our next meeting on April 15th.
Avitus Orthopaedics, Inc. – Avitus Orthopaedics is a medical device company innovating novel surgical instruments for orthopedic surgery. Avitus is an ACA Syndicated company. Check out their website here.
Wavelength – Wavelength is an app the uses behavioral neuroscience to help people stop the yo-yo dieting cycle and heal their relationship to food. Check out their website here.
I am told that the angel groups of the Northeast have one of the best systems for syndicating deals in the country. There are many parts to making that happen. I have the privilege of running the nomination, application, and selection processes.
The process is efficient and fair and might be helpful to other angel groups, or to other groups who see a lot of applications from people seeking money (accelerators, foundations, government agencies, etc). And… no coders or high-tech talent required, we do it all with free/cheap tools we can easily modify to meet our needs!
As mentioned previously, in January RVI pivoted to focus on speed and convenience. Three months in, and despite COVID-19, RVI’s new model is working.
- Membership up 20%.
- Attendance up 33%.
- Invested in a deal every month (or about 4x as many as we did in most years).
COVID-19 is creating massive problems in the world and no one is better suited to adapt and tackle those problems then startups.
But the startups can’t do it alone. They need our investment and support.
If you are interested in investing in the startups trying to change the world and you are near Western Massachusetts, learn more & contact us, we’d love to have you at one of our meetings.
Today’s RVI meeting was held online via Zoom and, while we certainly missed the unstructured networking and other aspects of an in-person meeting, it worked and we can make them better. Some of the techniques we used and/or will use next time…
- Before the event, we ask everyone to log in with a device with a camera so we can see each other. They all have been invited to a google calendar event with the link embedded in it.
- Created Breakout Rooms (Networking, Startup, and Scheduling) from the get-go. I’ve used Zoom for over a year and hadn’t even realized it was built into the pro plan I was already paying for! If you haven’t used breakout rooms before check them out.
Troubleshooting & networking
- As our members logged in, once we are sure we can see & hear them and vice versa, our Manager will invite them to head into the Networking breakout room to socialize. This way people who are ready to go don’t have to listen to others getting tech support :).
- As the entrepreneurs login, we have them hop into the Startup breakout room where our assistant manager makes sure the entrepreneurs are ready to share their screen and has their questions answered.
Setup to best re-create in-person meeting
- Our manager messages everyone via zoom’s integrated chat, inviting them to rejoin the main room ASAP.
- With everyone present, we ask people to switch to Gallery mode, this shows a grid of as many people as can fit on one’s screen. It helps recreate (as close as we can) the feeling of all of us being around the same table.
Meeting start & entrepreneur presentation
- Invite members to send our Manager messages via Zoom’s chat feature during the presentation so we have a queue of questions ready to go.
- Go through our introductory agenda (quick intros, explain the process, etc).
- Manager mutes everyone (except the presenter) to minimize background noise.
- Presenter shares their screen (where they already have their presentation in full-screen mode, ready-to-go). This puts their slides in full-screen mode for everyone.
- We ask them to have a timer set for ten minutes. We set one up as well and if the company runs over time the Manager discreetly private-messages the entrepreneur. (If anyone has a tip for displaying a countdown timer to the entrepreneur/room, we’d love to hear it!)
- With the presentation complete we ask the entrepreneur to stop screen-share so we can all see the grid of faces. The Manager uses the list of chat messages and looks for people to physically raise their hands on-camera, to know who to direct to ask the first questions. Manager tries to message people to let them know they are in the queue. Manager unmutes and says things like “Mary has our first question, and Jim is next in line.
- Members then unmute themselves, ask their question, the entrepreneur responds as normal, and we call on the next questioner.
- When Q&A is complete the Manager asks the entrepreneurs to move to the Startup breakout room while the group deliberates next-steps.
- The closed-door session continues as normal. At RVI we follow a particular format with the discussion going in three parts… “Why might this be a great investment opportunity?”, “If you were on the due diligence team, what questions would you recommend they think through carefully?”, and “Who wants to be on the due diligence team?”
- Most of the group take a 5-minute break.
- If there is a due diligence team, they and the Assistant Manager head to the Startup Breakout room to schedule the next meeting. No point in losing momentum!
- If there is no due diligence team, our Manager heads to the Startup Breakout room and gives the bad news and a very brief summary of why we did not have the critical mass to proceed. We believe a fast, respectful no with an explanation is the only respectful and fair thing to do for an entrepreneur. We also offer to have a conversation after the meeting if they want more info. If they are a local company we sometimes invite them to rejoin the meeting at the end to get some targeted advice from the group.
The rest of the meeting
- Rinse-repeat for other presenters.
- Do end-of-meeting wrap-up.
- At the end of the meeting, invite people to use the breakout rooms if they would like to continue any conversations or otherwise take advantage of the fact a bunch of us are in one (virtual) place at the same time.
Using these steps, we’ve found we are able to replicate almost all of the benefits of our normal meetings. Of course, there’s no replacement for a handshake and sitting around the table, but when circumstances don’t allow for that, this system has proven to be a great alternative.
Many of the angel investors in our group are in the at-risk population for COVID-19. All of us have at-risk people in our families, as do the entrepreneurs pitching us. RVI is, like our peer angel groups throughout the Northeast, following the guidance of the CDC and switching to virtual meetings until further notice. Virtual meetings aren’t as good, but they are safe, and they will do until the COVID-19 situation has passed.
RVI has two presenters scheduled for our next meeting on March 18th, 2020.
Northampton Labs – Our mission is to serve the Massachusetts community for quality testing. Our priorities include health safety, community awareness and commerce.
Meenta – Meenta makes it easy for scientists to instantly book time on thousands of shared research-equipment and services.
Western-Massachusetts based angel network River Valley Investors (RVI) has completed an investment in ApprentiScope, committing to lead the round.
ApprentiScope is revolutionizing the way businesses implement and manage modern Registered Apprenticeship and Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs. By combining modern software automation practices with deep industry knowledge, ApprentiScope is helping employers across the country train productive employees more efficiently than ever, while simultaneously increasing retention, decreasing spending, adding redundancy, and eliminating compliance errors.
Paul Silva, RVI Manager said, “Will Lippolis, ApprentiScope founder, really impressed us – he’s built an impressive list of customers as a one-man show, giving us confidence in his ability to scale. ApprentiScope is also a local company, and a member of Launch413’s portfolio, so we felt ApprentiScope was a no-brainer. Will further proved us right with his openness to feedback throughout the process.”
Will Lippolis, Founder of ApprentiScope said, “In this day in age, businesses can no longer rely on higher education as their main recruiting channel, which has led to a near unilateral investment in Registered Apprenticeship and Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs by some of the largest companies in the world. Our platform allows these companies to easily implement, manage, and scale their programs by automating every aspect of their complex and specific management processes. We’ve had great success so far and are on track to be nationwide by 2021 with the support of VCET, RVI, and Launch413.”
This is River Valley Investors’ first investment in ApprentiScope.
River Valley Investors is the premier angel investor group in western Massachusetts.
Launch413 is a group of serial entrepreneurs and veteran executives dedicated to helping startups become profitable engines of prosperity in our region.