On May 20th, 2016, the Center for Free Enterprise hosted a sellout audience and a very strong panel addressing the topic of alternative investments in early stage growth companies in Northeast Ohio.
On the positive side, Adam Roth, CEO of Streamlink Software, explained how his business was launched and has grown to 700 (approximately) customers and 45 (approximately) employees here in Northeast Ohio, with most funds raised locally starting with North Coast Angel Fund (NCAF). Roth pointed out that fundraising has been challenging but the funds have been there to grow the business. Also, the business has been able to attract top talent, again sometimes with difficulty.
Todd Federman, Executive Director of North Coast Angel Fund, explained that NCAF has looked at 2,000 proposals over 9 years and invested in 40. Federman explained that while Angel funds are scarce, as are follow on funds, the best opportunities and teams are getting funded and growing. He did point out that there are fewer funding sources locally now than previously and some types of businesses are particularly difficult for NE Ohio investors to embrace.
Karen Spilizewski of Rivervest and Bio Enterprise, is a healthcare investor and continues to see opportunities. Our region has a core strength in healthcare obviously. Spilizewski noted that top talent with a successful entrepreneurial track record, serial entrepreneurs, are hard to attract and early stage / start-up funds are particularly scarce.
Mark Weisman of Navidar echoed the sentiments expressed by the others, and noted that people who are not serious about investing in strategy startups will do entrepreneurs a favor by saying no and not wasting their time. Navidar will assist early-stage growth companies but not raise funds for them until they have made substantial progress towards implementing their business plans.
The audience at the program was encouraged that despite the challenges, the most promising of local strategies startups are attracting both growth capital and talent. The local ecosystem is providing needed support, and opportunities are out there for the most serious and committed of early-stage businesses / entrepreneurs and investors.