Houston Voices

5 investor red flags to look out for, according to this University of Houston expert

Keep an eye out for these warning signs when looking for funding. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Venture capitalists give you plenty of reason to be on the look out for investor red flags.

In The Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog, the frog entrusts the scorpion not to sting it while it helps the scorpion cross a lake. The scorpion promises not to sting the frog, reasoning that both would drown. The scorpion stung the frog anyway. As a result, both drowned. The moral of the story is that a scorpion, like any animal, is true to its nature.

Think of venture capitalists as scorpions. They are constantly trying to undermine established terms in order to either avoid a financial downside, or collect on the financial upside, even at a startup's expense. As a result, they will not think twice about screwing you over.

Venture capitalists have a clear institutional objective: if your company is successful, they collect as much money as they can based on the agreed upon terms. On the other hand, if your company falls flat on its rear, venture capitalists will look to avoid losing money. At all costs. Even if it means bending the terms of your agreement and hurting your company further.

Here are the top five red flags to look out for from a venture capitalist.

Bad terms

Firstly, there are many times when a bad investor will strong-arm a company founder into a tough deal. If the investor even hints that there will be no room for negotiation, that's a definite red flag. You have a right to negotiate certain terms and request flexibility. The best investors will want to work with you because it's unlikely they'll want a sour relationship with their investment. If your investor seems to say "no" a lot to you, how much do they really care about your company's growth?

Unpredictable behavior

Any investor that exhibits unexpected behavior is sure to give you tons of headaches down the road. Imagine after agreeing to terms, your new investor decides he or she do not want to be on your company's board all of the sudden. Either because they don't have the time or just don't want the responsibility. Instead, they would hire an executive from another company to represent their interest on your company's board. Why didn't they tell you this beforehand? Now you'll have to adjust to this sudden change of heart. Consequently, your company will have to adjust, too.

Strict monogamy

Okay, so your relationship with your investor is not a romantic one. That's exactly why it should be okay to work with other investors. If your venture capitalist tries to discourage you from doing that, it shows a glaring insecurity. Multiple investors means more money for your company. Any investor that tries to keep you from working with other investors probably does not have your startup's best interest in mind.

Rotating door of CEOs

If an investor has a history of firing founders or CEOs too fast, it could show that they do not have the patience required to allow a startup to grow. Moreover, bad investors will overreact to a missed milestone (like under-performing for a quarter) and fire a CEO. So, seek an investor that has a reputation of working with founders, even through those bumps in the road.

Dominating discussions

Lastly, any potential investor that completely dominates a discussion does not leave room for other ideas and different perspectives to be brought to the table. Your company meetings should brainstorming sessions and strategic conversations where everyone has input.

Therefore, any one-sided discussion about company operations is sure to leave a bad taste in everyone else's mouths. In short, if your discussions with a potential investor are one-way streets where they are talking way more than they are listening, what do you think board meetings will be like with them at the helm?

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

UH's business school just received its second largest gift ever. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business has received its second largest donation to benefit its entrepreneurship program.

The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, which was recently ranked the top undergraduate entrepreneurship program in the country, received the $13 million gift from its namesake foundation — The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation — and the state of Texas is expected to match an additional $2 million, bringing the total impact to $15 million.

"Our family is deeply committed to the ideals of entrepreneurship," says Cyvia Wolff in a news release. "Our business personified everything that it means to be an entrepreneur. The skills, the thinking, the mindset are fundamental to success for business leaders today and in the future. On behalf of my late husband, we are truly honored to ensure the entrepreneurial legacy not only endures but remains accessible for students. We are truly honored to be part of this program and university."

The money will be used to create three endowments for the program. The Dave Cook Leadership Endowment, named for the center's director, Dave Cook, will be created and funded with $7 million of the donation to support leadership within the organization. For $4 million, the center will create the Wolff Legacy Endowment, which aims to increase students involved in the center, as well as the companies coming out of the program. The last $2 million will be used to create the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Endowed Chair(s)/Professorship(s) in Entrepreneurship. This initiative will support research and community outreach.

"We are passionate about entrepreneurship and how it can forever change students' lives," says Bauer Dean Paul A. Pavlou in the release. "We seek to further promote entrepreneurship as a university-wide, even citywide effort, by collaborating within and across the university in a multitude of areas, such as technology, health care, arts and sports."

The program was created in the mid '90s and was later renamed after Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff in 2007, and has seen great success over the past decade. In that time, Wolff students have created 1,270 businesses, with identified funding of just over $268 million. According to the release, the program has been ranked in the top two spots of the Princeton Review's top undergraduate entrepreneurship programs for nine of the past 12 years.

"Entrepreneurship is crucial for the future of our country, as well as our city and state," says UH President Renu Khator in the release. "We are proud to be at the forefront of work around entrepreneurial training and research. The uniqueness of our program has and continues to make it the model program. This extraordinary gift ensures our leadership in this space will continue and will support the creation of businesses, change communities and impact our students' lives."

At UH, 2,500 students take at least one entrepreneurship course a year, and more than 700 students complete certificate programs.

"What we are doing is transformative in the lives of students, mentors and stakeholders in a way that elevates everyone towards excellence," Cook, who was named the director of the program in 2017, says in the release. "The impact of this gift allows us to remain the leader and to move forward with confidence, purpose and permanence."