As a graduate of Rutgers University, I’ve always had mixed feelings about my school. Rutgers did many things well during my undergrad years, but when it came to excellence, we only seemed to excel in matters that didn’t matter, such as bureaucratic paperwork. (The “RU Screw,” we called it.)
We also did a great impersonation of an Ivy League school, since we were old enough (1766), but in fact were just a state school that couldn’t hold much of a candle to Princeton, just a few miles down the road. They had Albert Einstein; we had Jim Backus, the voice of the nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo. So when I left Rutgers, I pretty much felt on my own, especially when it came to establishing myself as an entrepreneur.
Of course, if I’d known better (and thought better of my school), I might’ve taken advantage of alumni connections to get a leg up. That’s always been a perk of getting a college degree. But here’s great news: These days, groups of enlightened investors loyal to dear old alma mater have taken college-based networking a step further. They’re starting angel funds specifically dedicated to helping alumni get a leg up — and making new businesses take off.
One such new fund is called the “new IrishAngels,” and it was started in the summer of 2012 with a specific focus on University of Notre Dame alumni. “We set out to create a Notre Dame-affiliated, but officially independent angel investment group that was to be both nimble and potent,” says David Wieland, director and executive committee co-chair of the group. The heavy hitters here include chairman Gary Gigot, founder of the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship at Notre Dame.
So if you’ve been toiling around in your garage working on some entrepreneurial dream, and you just happen to be of Fighting Irish lineage, you’ve got friends: really powerful, motivated friends.
“Our focus on investing in ventures with Notre Dame connectivity is rooted in the work our collective group has done to develop entrepreneurial activity on campus and within alumni groups,” Gigot told Money Under 30, adding: “This has been a 10-plus year process. Now we’re coming to the realization that we have like-minded investment philosophies within our membership.” The goal as he describes it is to balance “financial ambition with high integrity business practice.” Also crucial: “We can now create a proprietary deal flow that extends across the country by activating the Notre Dame network.”
Ah yes, but what kind of money are we talking about here? IrishAngels will invest seed and Series A capital into early-stage companies raising a round of roughly $500,000 to a few million dollars, says managing director Gale Bowman. Of that amount, “IrishAngels will contribute at least $250,000 of the round, co-investing alongside other angel groups, individual angels, and/or VC firms.” That money at present comes from 75 investors, mostly Notre Dame undergraduates, MBAs, and JDs, while a few are parents of Notre Dame students and graduates.
To land that funding, it helps to show that you’ve got some of the key grunt work done — though the lack of it doesn’t automatically rule you out from either mentoring or forging key relationships within the new IrishAngels. “We’re seeking entrepreneurs that have a completed product or service and some traction in the market,” Bowman says. “Ideally, they’ve generated enough revenue to understand metrics such as customer acquisition cost, and the number of sales people required to hit revenue projections. The more entrepreneurs know about their industry, the better chance they have of getting funded.”
She adds: “A clear understanding of the amount of capital they need to raise as well as how that capital will be used to hit growth hurdles is also extremely important.” So sharpen those pencils, Norte Dame grads: This is a test.
Lest you think that the new IrishAngels represent the only game in town, guess again. In Chicago alone, the University of Chicago has its Hyde Park Angels, Northwestern has its Wildcat Angels and the city also hosts a branch of Harvard Business School angels, celebrating its first year.
Closer to the Silicon Valley, you can also find the Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs and the MIT Club of Northern California. It’s important to note that many of these groups share two key characteristics: a focus on high tech, and relatively short histories. The phenomenon of alumni angels is both new and growing in scope, which means that recent college grads with a vision of creating something new and game-changing have somewhere to turn for mentoring, guidance and financial resources.
Here’s how Bowman sees it: “I expect to see more alumni focused angel groups formed in the near future, as individuals from several universities have already reached out to learn more about what we’re doing and how they might replicate our model.”
Who knows? Perhaps homecoming, as alumni of Norte Dame and other schools understand it, will have an entirely different meaning, one rooted in the first step to entrepreneurial success.
How do you take advantage of your alumni networks?