BY ROGER WILLIAMS
WANT TO MEASURE THE REGION’S ECONOMIC recovery or look in a crystal ball to see the future?
Just have a quick glance at the Gulf Coast Venture Forum.
The Naples-based nonprofit business booster and angel fund investor, with a chapter in Sarasota and growing interest in expanding to Fort Myers, bore and released the for-profit Tamiami Angel Fund two years ago. That happened roughly
the way a B-52 once bore and released the X-15, the aircraft that holds the world record for the fastest manned flight (more than 4,500 miles per hour).
The comparison is apt, although the TAF — the first in Southwest Florida — is only now picking up the pace of investments with both money and intellectual capital in promising new business ventures from the region or state.
“Now that we’re entering our third season, I believe the pace of investment will increase,” says Tim Cartwright, managing director of the Compass Advisory Group, part of Fifth Avenue Investors where he is a partner, and chairman of
both the Gulf Coast Venture Forum and the Tamiami Angel Fund.
“We’ve streamlined certain processes, and we know what we want.”
The Gulf Coast Venture Forum includes about 100 members between its two current chapters. The TAF, meanwhile, with more than 40 members who kick at least $50,000 apiece into the fund, requires accredited investors to show at least $1 million of net worth minus the value of a home, or $200,000 of adjusted gross income filing singly, or $300,000 filing jointly.
The importance of that kind of economic muscle and wisdom — many members have headed major corporations, or still do — in powering up a robust future economy is hard to underestimate, says Ray Leach, a founder and leader of JumpStart, a
Cleveland, Ohio-based nonprofit champion of angel funds. JumpStart has proven one of the most successful economic engines of its kind in the United States, according to business pundits.
Mr. Leach, who owns a home in south Lee County, has helped Jump- Start establish an advisory relationship with the Gulf Coast Venture Forum.
“In a lot of communities across the 13 states we get involved in we might find, for example, a university generating opportunities, but they often don’t have an angel fund,” he says.
“Southwest Florida does, and it can be incredibly helpful in creating earlystage opportunities.”
He offers a single statistic to make sharply clear the potential importance of angel fund investors: “In the last decade, 70 percent of new jobs in the United States were created by companies five years old or younger.”
Those are the companies Mr. Cartwright and his partners are seeking.
Now, Mr. Cartwright explains, the Venture Forum and its Tamiami Angel Fund have “a close collaborative relationship, with a memorandum of understanding.
“The Gulf Coast Venture Forum will focus on early-stage deals that are prerevenue, and TAF will concentrate on early stage deals that are revenue producing.
“If a company presents at either the Venture Forum or the TAF and distinguishes itself, we will refer that company to both, so it can get maximum exposure to investors.”
Nothing like it has happened before in the region.
It marks a high point, a golden opportunity, for innovative new entrepreneurs — but that doesn’t mean the opportunity will come easily.
On the contrary, if the first two years of TAF investments are any indication. The process required to gain angelfund backing is rigorous and selective, a powerfully reductive meritocracy of sorts.
Only the very best ideas, well planned and executed, are likely to make the cut.
“Our total deal flows since inception have numbered 563,” explains Mr. Cartwright. In other words, 563 entrepreneurs sought investment backing by contacting the Tamiami Angel Fund.
“Of those, 27 have been invited to present to our group,” he added.
“We approved 13 to go to due diligence, and three we invested in.
“At this juncture I’d like to be invested in six to eight companies. But I also have to preface that comment by saying, this is the first ever angel fund of Southwest Florida. This is the first time 41 members could come together, could cooperate and work together in a democratic investment process. It takes longer than you anticipate.”
But it also takes off, just like the X-15. ¦
Gulf Coast Venture Forum Season Kick-off meeting
When: 5:15-8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 1
Where: Hyatt Regency
Coconut Point Resort
and Spa, Bonita Springs
Cost: $65 at the door
Info: 687-5824 or www.gcvf.com