I’m happy to announce that Jason E. Klein, CEO of On Grid Ventures, will serve as the new Chairman of Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of Greater NY. Jason is an experienced angel and company builder. I’m shifting to “Chairman Emeritus” (an overly polysyllabic title). I’ll still be very active in supporting our growth, while continuing to serve as a Partner at ff Venture Capital.
In December 2010, Richard Kane, then-President, Harvard Business School Club of New York, asked me if I’d like to found an HBS alumni-affiliated angel group in NY. Since then, we have grown to be the 2nd largest angel group in NY, with 130 members (vs. about 150 for Golden Seeds in New York, the largest group). We believe we are the second or third most active angel group in New York, depending on which metric you use. 33 of our members collectively have made 82 investments for $3.5m in 27 companies. Our average check size per member per company per round is $43K, which is probably the highest of any angel group in the country. We also have won over 800 investors and friends to our mailing list.
It’s been an honor to work with such a quality leadership team and staff. Of course, we’re a volunteer organization, and could get nothing done without them. I particularly want to thank Hemali Dassani, Betsy Odita, John Park, and Kristine Stoker, who have been active leaders with our group since our launch; Diana Dowling, who has been absolutely invaluable in standardizing our organizational processes and making the trains (and meetings) run on time; and Richard Kane, a key senior statesman. Also key have been the other members of our Steering Committee: Sharjeel Kashmir, Emily Hoffman Szurek , Mark Lodish, and Margaret Miao. Managing a group of Harvard MBAs is very different from my past managerial experience, and I’ve learned a lot from herding our cats.
When Harvard Business School’s new Dean, Nitin Nohria, took office, he outlined five priorities to shape his agenda for the School during his tenure: curriculum innovation, intellectual ambition, internationalization, inclusion, and closer ties to the University. Our accomplishments reflect those 5 priorities; we were inspired in part by the Harvard Business School U.S. Competitiveness Project, which challenged the HBS alumni community to address America’s declining competitiveness.
1) Curriculum innovation
HBSAANY has evolved into an educational organization, holding investor education events in NY, Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, Toronto, and San Francisco, as well as many webinars. That said, doing is the best way of learning. We saw over time that our investor group, just like Angel List and most other angel groups, was good at syndication and not so effective at leading rounds. As a result, we launched the Fast Track program, which helps VCs and active investors who are HBSAANY members to syndicate rounds with members of our network. To date, 11 companies have been approved for Fast Track, and 8 have raised capital from our members. Following a lead investor is valuable education, as it gives the coinvestors access to the deal documents and some of the process used by the lead.
2) Intellectual ambition
In the past four years, I’ve been fortunate to publish two research papers on investing best practices, on origination and portfolio operations, partly leveraging the insights I’ve gained through my work with HBSAANY.
HBS Alumni Angels is a global angel group, given our chapters in 15 cities. And of course many of our members in NY are international by background. Because of that, we have been judges or speakers at programs in New York geared to investors and startups from Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Eastern Europe, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, the Maghreb, and Portugal. I’ve enjoyed working with our friends at New York City Economic Development Corporation, VentureOutNY, and the Worldwide Investor Network .
In building the group, we had to figure out our origination strategy. Most investor groups specialize by geography, stage, and/or industry. However, our member base is much more diverse on all those measures than any other investor group I’m aware of. In my research on how private equity and VC funds source investments, one of our conclusions was that VCs get better returns when they invest outside of the traditional geographic hotspots of New York, Boston, and the Bay Area. This is a generalizable principle: you get higher returns where other investors are not. Because of that insight, we co-founded the Venture Capital Access Program, a joint venture with the National Association of Investment Companies, focused on helping women and minority entrepreneurs raise capital from HBS Alumni Angels. In a related move, we organized a series of joint pitch nights with the HBS African-American Alumni Association; HBS LBGT Alumni Association (September 8), and HBS Latino Alumni Association (October 6). In the first full year of operation, VCAP attracted 159 applicants. 34 went through VCAP committee screening; 17 went to a HBSAANY pitch night; 6 attended the annual NAIC convention, and 3 received funding (Mirror Digital,Cyber IQ, and Bownce) from HBSAANY and/or other sources.
As far as we know we’re the only investor group in New York to have cast such a wide net in working with diverse communities.
5) Closer ties to the Harvard community
Although we’ve grown dramatically, fewer than 1% of HBS grads in the NY area are now members. So we have a long way to go! In order to recruit members and source interesting companies, we’ve worked collaboratively on a wide range of events and other initiatives with many HBS special interest groups: HBS Healthcare Alumni Association; HBS Club of South Florida; HBS Club of Connecticut; HBS Alumni Angels of Northern California; HBS Women’s Association of Greater New York, HBS eClub; and of course our very close partners and friends the HBS Club of Greater NY. We’ve also worked with the broader university: Harvard Club of NYC; Harvard Club of Princeton (NJ); Harvard in Tech; Harvard Alumni Association; Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs; Harvard iLab; Harvard Venture Partners; Harvard Social Innovation Collaborative; Harvard Aspiring Minority Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs; Harvard GSAS Business Club; and the Harvard Graduate Student Council.
Going forward, I’ll continue to be very involved with the HBSAANY, particularly working on relationships with other VCs; the broad Harvard community; other universities/accelerators; and investor education. I look forward to seeing our group prosper under Jason’s leadership.