Not everyone trying to raise funds for a new venture succeeds in scoring a check from Oprah.
But Judith Griffin is a determined woman with high expectations. She founded Pathways to College, which is based in Teaneck, N.J., in 1994 to help minority high school students across the country receive extra preparation and encouragement via after-school programs so they could be ready for (and complete) college.
For-profit entrepreneurs can glean three key truths from Griffin’s nonprofit experience when seeking funds from angel investors, individuals who invest their own money in a business venture. An angel investor invests directly in a business -- not through a venture capital fund.
1. Perform due diligence. An entrepreneur seeking money should study a potential investor's portfolio: If that investor's portfolio includes a lot of similar businesses in a unique field different from the suitor's, he or she should look elsewhere. Chances are the angel has expertise in a specialized arena and won’t be likely to make a one-off investment in a different sort of venture.
Conversely, if a potential angel's investments have been in a particular field for which the entrepreneur's idea represents a bigger or better potential player, it's time to put together a proposal. Oprah Winfrey’s special arena involves youth programs and education, so Pathways made for an excellent fit. “She is really very invested in youth education,” says Griffin of Winfrey. “She’s a wonderful role model.”
2. Understand the power of passion and precision. Anyone who spends time with Griffin can be inspired by her passion for making education a priority for inner-city youth. Her love for what she does and her deep knowledge of how education works are clearly evident as she speaks. These personal characteristics -- passion and knowledge -- are what angels look for in an individual offering a product to invest in. So are honesty and sincerity.
A presentation to a potential investor should be thorough and detailed, and its narrative (the story told about the entrepreneur's idea and its potential) should be chronological, coherent and logical. But also details about the entrepreneur do matter. Let passion show by conveying it in concert with a forthright presentation that anticipates challenging questions.
3. Track the cycle. Twice Oprah Winfrey granted Griffin's program generous support. Each time that support came with specific beginning and ending dates. Her expected return is not monetary but measured instead by the number of students who participate in Pathways and their level of success. Angel investors will, however, expect to gain a financial return on their investment, will also define the time limit of their support.
Few angels are looking for permanent relationships with entrepreneur partners. As a general rule, they are looking for a tenfold return on their capital in six years, so a presentation to angels should always include a sound exit strategy. Show the angels how their investment goals will be met.
Approach angel investors demonstrating preparation, passion and promises fulfilled.
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