Queen City Angels Closes Largest Fund in Group’s History

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$10 Million First Fund V includes $5 million in match funds from Ohio Third Frontier

Queen City Angels has closed the largest fund in the group’s history. The $10 million First Fund V (FFV) is the fifth in a family of funds and includes $5 million in private funds from QCA members and two Cincinnati-based institutional investors, Ft. Washington Capital and Interact for Health. The remaining $5 million of matched funds came from Ohio Third Frontier. QCA’s history with Third Frontier dates back to 2003, when it was the first angel group recipient and among the first overall recipients of state funds.

“Since we started QCA 16 years ago, we have invested nearly $50 million in nearly 80 companies,” said Tony Shipley, founder of QCA. He and John Habbert, director of QCA, will manage FFV.

He added, “This new fund will allow us to further expand our efforts, helping more entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures to accelerate their development, grow their operations, launch new products, expand their reach or take whatever that next step may be towards success. This size of fund is a major milestone for our group, and we appreciate the confidence that Third Frontier has shown us as a partner in building economic growth in Ohio.”

QCA will use the funds to invest in companies throughout the state of Ohio, focusing on technology businesses such as life sciences and biotech companies like Assurex and IT companies like ShareThis. QCA was the first investor in Assurex, which received funds from QCA First Fund II. ShareThis received an investment from QCA First Fund. Other industries of focus may include advanced manufacturing and materials science.

Habbert added, “Key to QCA’s longevity and success is our growing and committed membership, and our strong partnerships with local incubators, universities, venture capitalists and government agencies. In addition to leading investment rounds, QCA will continue to support syndication deals with other recognized and certified angel groups throughout the state as part of our alliance with the Angel Capital Association Ohio. Based on our history, we envision FFV will support 15-20 different companies.”

One-on-One with an Angel: Richard Westheimer

angel1  What is your professional background, and how did it prepare you for your role in QCA?

I began my professional life as a 20-year Cincinnati Public School elementary school teacher and then leadership consultant for the schools.  In the mid 90s, I took over our family office, managing and then initiating our alternative and direct investment portfolio.

2  Why did you join QCA?

Deal flow and collaboration are the keys to developing a great direct investment portfolio.  QCA was developing a channel to good deal flow and was assembling terrific cadre of experienced investors and successful entrepreneurs with whom I looked forward to collaborating.

3  As an educator, what do you consider as Cincinnati’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to education?

The strength of the STRIVE partnership is becoming a real community asset.  All institutional participants have improved their work under the auspices of STRIVE and are serving as a model for such collaborations nationwide.  In addition, the Community Learning Center program, pioneered by CPS has gone a long way to removing the barriers that kids who grow up in communities of constructed poverty face.  The weaknesses are similar to weaknesses in all urban environments.  Schools are asked to do everything from acting as foster parents, to social service agencies, to counseling services, to…  They are given sufficient resources to teach but must use those resources to serve so many other roles in kids’ lives.  Ohio’s funding structure puts an undue burden on urban property owners to fund this work.

4  What is one piece of advice you were given early in your career that continues to serve you well today?

All enterprises have a mix of dedicated participants and "tagalongs." Team up with the dedicated folks no matter their status in the enterprise, and you’ll be golden.

5  What are one or two common themes you run across when working with entrepreneurs?

We — entrepreneurs and investors — tend to focus on what we are comfortable with and attribute to those things outsized importance.  Often the important things are outside of our experience or comfort zone.  It is to our benefit — again as entrepreneurs and investors — to invite rouge players and naysayers to the table to help push us out of those comfort zones.

6  What are you reading today, and what is one thing you have learned from it?

I read a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Just finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates’ personal narrative lyrically and fearlessly explores growing up black and poor on the mean streets of Baltimore. It is at once one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read and the most haunting. I would put it on my required reading list for good citizenship. The last fiction I read was Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry — a story that rests on a theme of good hard menial work being "good" in and of itself. It further teases out issues of trust and collaboration and how important they are to any enterprise that involves more than one person, no matter how simple or complex.

7  What company do you suggest entrepreneurs watch as a good example of success?

This, of course, depends on the entrepreneur and her or his enterprise. I do think it is important for fledgling entrepreneurs to study failed enterprises, as well as thriving ones.

Angel View: Four Reasons Why Start-ups Should Consider Cincinnati

skylineOne does not have to look very far or search very hard to find news about why Cincinnati is a great place to start a business. Reporters and writers from national publications are touting the great resources in the city while start-up founders attracted to local accelerators and incubators in the city craft blogs with an almost incredulous tone about everything from the cost of rent to the availability of funding. It’s almost as if they have discovered something that they are unsure whether they are allowed to say anything or not. What they are discovering is a city and a community that are really excited about ideas and innovations, and wants to be perceived as not only the home of P&G, Macy’s and GE Aviation, but also a place for the next big thing in consumer products and analytics software. There is a general understanding that if businesses are successful here than the entire region benefits.

A year ago, Rodrigo Galindez brought his start-up Keego from New York to Cincinnati to join The Brandery. On his Medium page, he crafted a blog titled, "Why Cincinnati Matters for Startups." In it, he wrote,

"Building a startup is one of the hardest things you will do in your life, but these folks make things easier. You are not alone here, and everybody will make sure you are part of the family from day one."1

This is reason number one to select Cincinnati, a Midwest mindset.

Simply put, in the Midwest, we think a little bit differently than the coasts. We don’t see a start-up as one of thousands. We are welcoming, and we want entrepreneurs to be successful. Afterall, Cincinnati is listed among America’s most livable cities, best city to relocate to, best cities in U.S. for post-grads and best cities to raise a family. We want you here, and everyone is working to make it a great place to live and work. It’s not really a secret, but it may be a surprise.

Alex Bowman, co-founder of Casamatic wrote in a July 2014 blog about why he moved back to the city, "There is a growing startup scene that supports each other. I am constantly amazed at the support that startup receive in Cincinnati, from investors, resources, events and other startups."ii

This brings me to reason number two, a growing start-up infrastructure.

Queen City Angels, CincyTech, Cintrifuse, The Brandery, Bad Girl Ventures… these are just a few of the resources eager to assist entrepreneurs in their start-up journey. Sean Grace, a marketing professional in Cincinnati called it an “Entrepreneur-Friendly Environment” in a Techli blog.iii

"Entrepreneurial activity is quickly becoming a defining feature of Cincinnati. This is due to many different pieces all working together to create a cohesive set of advantages."

Cincinnati is home to 10 Fortune 500 companies, and while those same businesses have defined this region for decades, they are the same organizations rallying behind the entrepreneur movement, supporting the accelerator programs, providing executive leadership and mentoring, and investing money.

Capital is reason number three why entrepreneurs should consider Cincinnati.

Most articles and blog posts about Cincinnati’s capital resources, or any Midwest city for that matter, start off by comparing it the money available to businesses in Silicon Valley, Boston or New York. It’s not a fair or appropriate comparison. For one, Cincinnati is not trying to be like San Francisco or Chicago. We don’t have to be. It doesn’t cost as much to live here or build a business, and there are significant capital resources available to young companies.

A January 2015 Huffington Post article stated, "Cincinnati lays claim to a growing and vibrant startup ecosystem. Much of this success is due to what we are seeing across the United States with fewer barriers to entry, but the main part of Cincinnati’s success is due in large part to the venture funding access in the city."iv

Since launching in 2001, Queen City Angels has invested $50 million in nearly 80 portfolio companies, initiating more than $400 million in follow-on capital. CincyTech has invested $25 million in 54 portfolio companies resulting in $435 million in follow-on capital. The Brandery has helped raise $78 million for 45 companies, and Cintrifuse has a venture fund with more than $50 million to invest. River Cities Capital Fund has nearly $500 million under management and has made more than 100 investments, and since 1990, Blue Chip Venture Company has invested approximately $1 billion in more than 500 financing rounds of 170 portfolio companies.

These aren’t all the capital resources available, but it provides a partial view of what is available from seed stage to venture stage investments. Hundreds of local companies have benefited from the dollars, as well as the business guidance from executives and investors who know what it takes to start and build a successful business.

This brings me to reason number four… a growing list of successful start-ups. Whether it’s receiving capital to take the business to the next level or growing the business to the point of an exit, Cincinnati has a growing list of companies that are proving why Cincinnati is a great place to start a business.

AssureRx, ChoreMonster, The Business Backer, DotLoop, Everything But The House, Lisnr, iSqft, Ecolibrium Solar… these are just a few of the businesses with foundations in Cincinnati that have received local and national attention for their funding, acquisitions and/or growth. Cincinnati played a role in each of their success stories, and the list will continue to grow driven by a city and community that has rallied around the startup scene; an emerging startup infrastructure with people and organizations that are eager to help; and angels and venture capital investors that provide support beyond the capital resources.

Obviously, there are more reasons to come to Cincinnati, from a successful urban renewal plan, and creative talent, to top-notch universities and an emerging art and restaurant scene. Honestly, our entrepreneur environment is relatively young, and we have a lot of room to grow. But if there is something we are good at in the Midwest, it’s building stuff, and we are off to a pretty good start.

 

i https://medium.com/@rodrigogalindez/why-cincinnati-matters-for-startups-6157060533c3
ii https://medium.com/@abohw/why-i-moved-back-to-cincinnati-9053b97b6b98
iii http://techli.com/2012/06/cincinnati-startup-ventures/#
iv http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-grill/working-title-tech-fundin_b_6431684.html

Earning Your Wings: Ecolibrium Solar

eco-logoEcolibrium Solar® is an emerging market leader in next-generation racking solutions for commercial and residential rooftops. Based in the U.S., the firm designs and manufactures simple, cost-effective, and installer-friendly products that maximize solar installation efficiency and minimize costs. Ecolibrium Solar provides innovative, lower-cost and labor-saving racking technology supported by thousands of residential and commercial customers, industry certifications, and third-party validations.

In the summer of 2012, Queen City Angels (QCA) was introduced to Ecolibrium Solar, a start-up company with a focus on revolutionizing the solar power market. Founded in Athens, Ohio, the company manufactures the next-generation photovoltaic (solar panel) mounting systems, which have proven to cut installation costs and help make green energy more accessible to more people. The company was looking to fill-out its latest investment round, and for QCA, Ecolibrium Solar’s rapid growth and the opportunity to participate in a hot market flush with merger and acquisition activity provided tremendous upside potential.

Ecolibrium has attracted numerous early investors, including TechGROWTH Ohio, East Central Ohio Tech Angel Fund (ECOTAF) and Ohio TechAngels. After initial meetings with Ecolibrium’s team and completion of the group’s due diligence, more than 20 individual QCA members decided to participate in an initial investment round, raising almost half the debt round in 2012. In 2013, QCA brought its total investment to nearly half a million dollars (adding several new investors) helping to fill out Ecolibrium’s Series B round. In early 2014, with orders coming in and annual revenues budgeted to triple, the board approached all of Ecolibrium’s investors to secure a $2 million loan for new tooling and inventory. Almost half of the debt round came from QCA members and the strategy was a huge success. QCA currently has a substantial equity position in the company, and also occupies a board seat.

Executive Leadership
  • Jan willem van der Werff, CEO – More than 20 years of global general management experience in the plastics and renewable energy industry.
  • Joseph Viny, VP of Business Development – Came to Ecolibrium after serving as VP of Business Devlopment for solar integrator, Third Sun Solar
Products
  • EcoFoot – versatile flat roof mounting solution that simplifies the installation process by providing low part count and universal module attachment. Made of 100% recycled HMWPE material with a proprietary design that protects the roof surface.
  • EcoFoot2+ – features increased ballast capacity, integrated grounding without washers and a preassembled clamps. Has fewer parts, more validation and increased design flexibility with zero seismic attachments
  • EcoX – introduced in July 2015, streamlines the residential installation process, rail-less concept that eliminate large, bulky components reducing shipping costs and on-site logistics