Need funding? Look for angels

Written by Lolita Villa


So you want to start a business but you don’t have the cash. Banks have many requirements, and your relatives don’t have that kind of money. Don’t fret: go to investors. Many budding entrep mag 01entrepreneurs know nothing of them, or think they are fabled unicorns. However, these groups are for real, and easy to find, if you know where to look.

The Philippine Venture Capitalist Investment Group (PVCIG), is one such group. It has steadfastly held the fort for a quarter of a century now at the Asian Institute of Management every last Thursday of the month. The forums, held at 7 to 9 AM, result in investors’ and business owners’ successful pairings, which have helped keep the business landscape thriving since 1987. Each meeting is sure to have business angels or representatives of venture capitalists in attendance.

Venture capitalists are more interested in funding mid to late stage businesses with financing involving millions. Business angels, on the other hand, are wealthy, entrepreneurial individuals who come to the aid of small and early stage enterprises. They can provide funds at relatively moderate amounts. Some invest for profit, while others (usually angel investors) do so out of a sense of social responsibility. Both kinds of investors may want equity holdings and interest themselves in the company’s management.

PVCIG started as Ed Isidro’s pet project. A corporate bigwig during the Marcos era and the second Filipino to have ever headed a multinational corporation, Isidro promised himself, as soon as he got out of industry, to come to the aid of small business owners. “At the time, there was no Go Negosyo, no forums, nothing! People wanted to know where to go for help. I started the group with five people.”

From overseas, venture capitalists contacted Isidro, asking him to run with millions of dollars in investment by setting up a venture capital outfit in the country. But these were late stage investors looking for ways to make a profit by the time a company went IPO. Help was needed at the company’s early stage, that fragile period fraught with risk, but which many venture capitalists deem as “not scaleable.”

Isidro decided to run with his own group of business angels. Sometime in the 1990s, a chance meeting with Phil Alfonso, the president of AIM, opened a new opportunity. Isidro recalls, “He said to me, ‘Ed ano ba ‘tong naririnig ko na venture-venture mo na pinagkakaguluhan ng mga tao? It starts on time and ends on time and there's no bullshit, it's all business!’” Isidro was invited to hold his meetings at AIM, right about the time when the institute started the first entrepreneurial programs in the country.

25 years after the idea took hold, Isidro has seen the five-man group grow into a monthly gathering of about less than 150 people. In 2011 alone, there were close to 1,400 people that attended the meetings; 48 projects were presented and generated 193 interested people. Off the top of his head, Isidro mentions some prolific individuals: Father Barcelon, a social entrepreneur handling about 50,000 women borrowers and who comes all the way from Cagayan de Oro just to attend the meets, or Marjo Villarosa-Reyes who has been attending the meetings for more than a decade and who now runs an eco-friendly firm with a partner. And others have since launched their own business forums.

“When you present at PVCIG, you’re in the battlefield,” Isidro says. “There's nothing theoretical about that. Where else can you get that kind of an atmosphere?”

Meetings at PVCIG start with a discussion on business trends, then individual presenters deliver their elevator pitch in 4.5 minutes, just enough to state the essentials as clearly and as concisely as possible. Participants are required to fill out a form to express their interest in the presentations. The ambience is lively, and the jokes keep spirits high and the creative juices flowing. Foreign businessmen are often in attendance, mixing with Filipino students, inventors, investors, corporate heads and start-up owners. If you attend four meetings in succession, you attain core membership and receive updates and access to the database.

Today, Isidro still maintains the monthly meets at his own expense, keeps them free of charge, grows membership by invitation, and refuses to accept sponsors or advertisers. He maintains confidentiality and does not interfere with transactions that happen right under his nose; he avoids conflict of interest.

“A lot of people have tried to duplicate this,” he observes. “But it requires a little tenacity and sacrifice. They think it's easy and that they will make money out of it. But when you try to do that, that's where you fail.”







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