Where Business Angel Investors Fear to Tread

Where Business Angels Fear to Tread?

Where Business Angels Fear to Tread?

Investors in early stage and start-up businesses are known as angel investors. The tag ‘angel’ coming from their tendency to operate in the margins where venture capitalists, banks and other backers choose not to go.

They also help plug a major funding gap to get such ventures off the ground and they happen to be the kind of investors who are prepared to take a risk, rely on their instincts and invest large sums without too many hard questions asked.

At least this is the accepted view.

But we may well be seeing a new breed of business angel emerge, one that takes a more conservative approach in these risk averse times.

Times, as Bob Dylan once sang, are a-changing as we see a trend emerging both in the UK and the US for a more cautious approach to investing in embryonic stage businesses. With many investors’ fingers burnt by the financial crisis it is hardly surprising that the appetite for risk remains limited – which in turn is making it increasingly harder for start-up businesses to attract funding.

According to the latest NESTA report on business angel activity in the UK, 83 per cent of angel investments were made with co-investors and a significant proportion (28 per cent) were made within just 50 kilometres of home. Working close to home and in the company of fellow investors shows that most business angels need security like anyone else and are careful where they put their money. The figures debunk any myths suggesting otherwise.

This is further borne out by statistics released in the US where an article this month in BusinessWeek suggests angel investors are getting pickier based on their analysis of data supplied by Angelsoft, an internet based company supplying online tools to angel investors.

The study looks at the share of companies seeking angel funds passing through each stage of the ‘deal funnel’ between 2007-2009. Not surprisingly, given the economic climate in the past two years, a glance at the chart reveals a dramatic decline in the number of businesses getting even as far as the screening process between 2007 and 2009. The statistics make worrying reading for anyone hoping for an easy ride when they approach potential investors for their start-up if the pattern is repeated her in the UK. .

More worrying still, just 2.8% of businesses made it as far as the due diligence stage, a fall of more than 50% on 2007/08 figures. This would indicate that angel investors in the US have become, as the article suggests, more ‘picky’.

But is it simply a case of angel investors becoming more picky? The figures reveal that just under half of businesses make it through screening to the due diligence phase, which is a pattern that has been broadly repeated since 2007.

However even though there were around 50% less businesses making it through the deal funnel, when we reach the end of the funnel and to what those business are striving to achieve i.e. investment, the proportion of those businesses making it through the final stages, is shown to be higher in 2009 than in 2007 or 2008, with 2.8% making it to due diligence and 2.1% securing investment.

Herein lies the good news for those businesses who sought funding. The proportion of businesses receiving funding in 2009 compared to 2008 suggests that if a business made it to the due diligence stage, there was a significantly better chance of securing investment.

The small percentage of businesses that made it through screening and the presentation phase also stood a greater chance of making it to the end of the deal funnel. This may suggest that angel investors are indeed becoming more choosy, but it could well be more a case of less money in the angel investor’s pot making it tougher to get past this initial screening process.

We know that more than half of investments fail
; therefore it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to conclude that angel investors are willing to take fewer risks than they once were.
This will be bad news for many start-ups and there will be many innovative businesses that fail to get a vital injection of capital. The number of businesses that have slipped through the net since 2007 is anyone’s guess.

It isn’t all bad news, according to the figures in the US business angels are choosing to invest in a greater proportion of those businesses that make it through screening. But we may be seeing that even business angels have their limits.

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