"When I started Tech Coast Angels I never imagined it would grow this much," Mr. Villalobos admits. "We're seeing some great little companies that we have helped fund. I love learning about and seeing new technologies and getting them out into the marketplace. We're the ones who make 'babies.' "
Mr. Villalobos's confidence and excitement are shared among his TCA peers, but the reality is, angels much like their counterparts in venture capital firms are no longer funding ideas. "The dynamics of the last few years' down-market has affected angels in the same fashion as any other investor," says Jack Florio, a TCA member and vice-president of communications for TCA's San Diego network. "Angel investors are looking for something that has a proven concept, a prototype, and some traction with customers. We're looking for more."
Benefit of Vast Experience, Contacts, Personal Time
Those small tech and life science companies that do make it through the TCA diligence process don't only receive funding. They also benefit from the TCA members' breadth of experience. "If you look at the  members, you will find people who have been in every aspect of technology hardware, software, telecommunications, and the life sciences including biotech and devices," says Mr. Florio, who spent 30 years in senior leadership positions with Eli Lilly and holds a bachelor of science degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Columbia University and an MBA from New York University.
"Individuals in the Tech Coast Angels have contacts in a vast number of the Fortune 500 companies," he adds. "It's these kinds of things that help start-up companies access the right people to help them develop their business. If you have six or seven of us in a room with a developing company, we can help them get to the right people for advice and contacts, and formulate a business plan in a much more expeditious way."
Many traditional venture capitalists don't have the time or patience to spend that much time coaching new and young tech entrepreneurs, explains Richard Koffler, a five-year TCA member.
Angels give more personal attention because they are investing their own personal money, says Mr. Koffler, a Peruvian-born entrepreneur with computer science degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and MIT who began his investing career after selling his own software company in 1998.
One company he has invested in is LatinoLA.com, a community Internet portal for Hispanics in Southern California that includes information on everything from healthcare and business to technology, finance, and dating. In this case Mr. Koffler, now LatinoLA.com's CEO and a board member, says he helped fund the company in 2000 because he strongly believed in founder Abelardo de la Peña.
"He had what it takes to turn his idea into a successful company," says Mr. Koffler, adding that "You need to have large volumes of traffic to sustain this kind of business," and the potential was there in the form of Southern California's incredible Hispanic population.
A Safer Investment
A strong network of qualified and experienced industry leaders is one of the best benefits of investing through a group like TCA, Mr. Koffler points out. "In terms of finding the right opportunities and making them happen, I feel like doing that within the TCA is a safer investment," he says.
"The value we give to the companies we work with is we help them grow to great successes," Mr. Koffler concludes. "We help them to where they can provide a good living for their employees and their shareholders. The fact that I had something to do with the success of a company feels good."
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