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Houston Angel Network sees membership growth amid pandemic

Over the past few years, the Houston Angel Network has doubled its members and continues to grow despite COVID-19's economic effects. Photo via Getty Images

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused some investors to hit pause on some deals, the Houston Angel Network, which has doubled its membership over the past couple years, has maintained its deal flow and investment, while taking every opportunity to connect members virtually.

"Nothing's really changed — in terms of our activity — other than the fact that we can't meet in person," says Stephanie Campbell, managing director of HAN. "We quickly pivoted to virtual."

Campbell — who also is also a founding partner at Houston-based, female-focused venture capital group, The Artemis Fund — says she still saw the interest and need on each side of venture deals.

"What I realized was, especially working at a venture fund, the deal flow isn't going away. Companies still need capital — and investors are still interested in looking at deals," Campbell tells InnovationMap.

HAN, which was founded as a nonprofit in 2001, continues to be touted as among the most active angel network in the country. The organization has five industry groups that it focuses its deals on — energy, life sciences, technology, consumer products, and aerospace.

At each monthly meeting, members hear three pitches. However, Campbell is vetting many more companies far more deals and passing them along the network as she goes. All in all, HAN investors do around 100 deals a year with an average investment of $100,000.

Since Campbell joined in 2018, membership has doubled from 60 members to 120. Campbell says it's her goal to get to 150 members by the end of the year.

Stephanie Campbell has led HAN as managing director since 2018.

"Despite COVID, we've continued to grow," Campbell says, adding that she's heard investors express that they have more time now to dive in. "People are very much still interested in learning about deploying their capital into early-stage venture. They're looking for a network of like-minded individuals."

Campbell explains that, with the switch to virtual pitches and events, HAN is congregating more than ever. In the spring, Campbell introduced a thought leadership series, called Venture Vs. The Virus, that brought investment leaders together to discuss how the pandemic was affecting venture capital.

HAN is also using this time to better tap into technology to connect members with startups. On the back end, Campbell says, she's looking to enhance digital engagement with members and also improve data reporting within the organization.

From increasing networking and educational events and growing membership, HAN is prioritizing growing its place in the Houston innovation ecosystem. Campbell says she sees the pandemic is causing investors and tech talent on the coasts to re-evaluate where their living, and that's going to benefit Texas. Houston is going to see an influx of tech talent coming to town, and that's going to translate to more startups being founded locally.

"We want to make sure that we are a big part of this transition toward a more diverse and resilient economy," Campbell says. "Now's the time to lean in on Houston."

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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