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Summary of Angel Investments over the Past Decade

An excellent source of information about angel investments in the U.S. Can be found at the website for University of New Hampshire's Peter T. Paul Center for Venture Research. Scholars there have been tracking venture funding since the early 1980s, and the most recent ten years of annual and semi-annual reports are available for free, at the school's website. Below is a summary of highs and lows over the past decade. For more detailed information, see the website link that follows.

In 2012, 21% of entrepreneurial ventures presented to individuals and angel groups (beyond a “friends and family” round) found investors willing and able to pony up for their businesses. This percentage, referred to as a “yield” is nearly as high as the peak 23% attained in 2001 and 2007, and far higher than the historic average of 10 – 15%. Interpretations for this influx of investment dollars vary greatly from investor optimism to fleeing the public equity markets to a bubble in the making. In addition to the increased percentage of fundings, both the number of entrepreneurial ventures AND the number of angel investors have peaked for the past decade, at 67,030 ventures funded by 268,160 angels in 2012, and 66,230 ventures funded by a whopping 318,480 angels in 2011. These numbers far outstrip the paltry 36,000 ventures funded by 200,000 angels during the “boom year” of 2001.

However, these investment dollars have shifted away from seed stage companies to those with more of a track record. In 2012, only 35% of angel dollars funded seed stage companies, and 33% early stage, far lower than 2005's 55% of investment for seed stage companies and 2010's 67% to early stage companies. A corollary to this shift is the nearly steady, year by year decline over the decade in the percentage of angel investment as the first investor, from a high of 70% in 2005 to 52% in 2012. In other words, although more angels invested in more companies in 2011 and 2012 than earlier, they have become more conservative, by targeting more developed companies, and preferring to follow other investors rather than lead the charge.

What about exits?

The worst year for bankruptcies was 2009, when 40% of angel funded deals went belly up. More commonly, the percentage is in the 20-27% range, highlighting the risk that angels take – a point that entrepreneurs should bear in mind when asking for other people's money. The same percentage of companies being funded by angels (about 1 in 5) will, once funded, fail. So entrepreneurs should expect attentive due diligence by potential investors, which may well take longer than they wish.

The most frequent positive exit by angels was in the form of mergers and acquisitions. The highest percentage was 70 in 2008. Other years, mergers and acquisitions accounted for 50 to 65% of the exits. For this reason, entrepreneurs are wise to surround themselves with industry knowledgeable management and directors, whose connections may be crucial to ensuring a profitable merger or acquisition.

IPOs don't happen for small companies anymore, and none have been recorded for the past few years.

The industry sectors most popular with angel investors remain remarkably consistent. The most frequent two sectors remain software and healthcare for the past ten years. The next few industries shift back and forth: industrial, energy, retail, bio/life science, IT, and media. Financial services and telecom have both fallen out of favor in the past five years. This does not mean that entrepreneurial ventures outside these industries don't get funded, but it may mean that those management teams will have to explain their value proposition carefully to an audience that doesn't encounter as many deals in that sector.

Like any set of statistics, these data leave plenty of room for interpretation, but a few points jump out to me.

1) Entrepreneurs have a lot of competition for angel ears, as well as angel dollars. So be prepared to stand out of the crowd by being thoroughly prepared for investor scrutiny.

2) The percentage of entrepreneurial ventures that is securing funding is close to beating the decade's high. This could mean that it is easier to get funding now than before, or it could mean that a bubble is forming and the gravy train will derail shortly.

3) Seed funding is harder to come by. So entrepreneurs need to be able to self fund for a longer period than in the past or need to develop some revenue stream early, in order to (a) stay afloat and (b) attract investors who want to see a functioning business, not just a business plan. Besides, being able to generate some payments increases the range of potential funding sources, such as revenue based lenders (like factoring firms).

4) Because the majority of investor exits are through M&As, entrepreneurs need to know their competitors, suppliers, and customer base very well. Any of these could be your partners or bosses in the future.

Source: The University of New Hamshire's Peter T. Paul School for Venture Research.

It has produced annual reports analyzing American angel investment since 1980.

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