By Jason Whitney, associate vice president, IU Ventures, and executive director, IU Angel Network
When IU Ventures founded the IU Angel Network one year ago, we felt confident, excited and curious about how our plans would show up in action. We know that the Indiana University community generates great ideas, sustains an incredible work ethic and attracts attention from around the world.
What we didn’t expect was that several couples would join the Angel Network and take on the project of angel investing as a team. We sat down with two of these dynamic duos to learn about their experience and what makes the Angel Network a good fit for them.
Meet the members
Laura Kennedy and Adam Stone met shortly after Kennedy moved to Indiana.
“We both have finance education, his from undergrad and mine from my MBA. So, we spent our twenties geeking out on things like Individual Retirement Accounts and investments,” Kennedy said. “Finances are a huge piece of a marriage, and it worked out for us that we share a personal interest in investing and finance.”
Kennedy’s career led her toward TV reporting and journalism, while Stone has spent the last four years working for a California startup, giving the couple an insider perspective on startup life. Angel investing was a natural progression from there, they said.
Pat East and his wife, Jamie, met while he was deploying a new website at her workplace. Because she was also a full-time student at IU, they had to meet outside regular training hours, and the rest is history.
“Though we ended up starting an advertising business, neither of us studied business,” Pat East said. “I was an English major at Wabash College, and Jamie studied sociology. Those fields taught us strengths like how to justify thinking and pull out data, so even when it looks like there’s not a lot to go on, we can see patterns and analyze them.”
How did you get involved in angel investing as a couple?
The Easts started with angel investing as an extension of their business, agreeing to their first endeavor by trading work for equity in a startup. That was almost a decade ago.
“Since then, we’ve invested in some way approximately every year,” Pat East said. “We joined VisionTech six or seven years ago and the IU Angel Network in 2020. We wanted to expand the types of deals we could get access to and meet more people at the same time.”
For Stone and Kennedy, becoming involved in angel investing began with their membership in the IU Angel Network earlier in 2020.
“It’s been extremely fun to take our combined knowledge of finance and business and apply it to these real-world situations,” Kennedy said. “From evaluating the strength of market research to the more intangible elements like the personalities of the founders, we can apply our insight and grow our community when we invest in a concept we strongly believe in.”
How can partners approach investing as a team?
For both couples, the process of vetting and evaluating Angel Network investments is a joint effort.
“We review the documentation and do research individually, and then we watch the pitches together and discuss the concepts afterward,” Kennedy explained. “It’s nice to hear more than one pitch to have a chance to compare the ideas and their relative pros and cons.”
For Stone and Kennedy, the process includes consideration of the startup’s viability, market edge and growth strategy.
“If it’s an idea where one of us says, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’ it might be a sign to get involved,” Kennedy said. “But there are also considerations like the growth strategy to apply the investment, and whether established companies in the same industry have attempted similar innovations in the past.”
The discussion of pros and cons is also important to the Easts.
“I tend to source more of the deals day-to-day, but I keep Jamie informed constantly about what I am learning,” Pat East said. “If I really believe in an investment opportunity, we sit down to discuss the full details, and she grills me with questions about the strengths and barriers.”
Pat said this sometimes sends him back for more research or fact-finding before Jamie takes the baton and handles the documentation and investment management.
“For instance, we want to work with companies and leaders that will be coachable, because it means when something goes bad, they won’t stick to a path that isn’t working,” he said.
Kennedy emphasized that while the IU Angel Network is a great community to join, investing as a pair might not be ideal for every couple.
“What’s most important is that we both find it fun and can carry it off without friction,” she said. “If one person isn’t interested, it might mean the other partner should just invest individually.”
Pat East shared similar sentiments.
“It’s both my and Jamie’s money, and we invest together because we both enjoy learning about the companies and helping founders,” he said. “But we’ve also figured out a process that works for us and lets us each apply our strengths to succeed better together.”
What do you think makes the IU Angel Network unique?
Pat East said the virtual-meeting element of the IU Angel Network has emerged as a major strength of the organization, and not just due to the pandemic.
“Not only does a virtual meeting allow people from all over the nation to attend — it opens up the conversation in a new way,” he said. “Meeting virtually means it’s easier to be confident to participate. On the flip side, those who might dominate in-person can literally be muted, and we can talk among ourselves.”
Pat East said the quality of startups pitching to the IU Angel Network is also excellent.
“If the caliber of these investments continues to get traction, with even better deal flow and more members, a year from now it will be even better,” he said. “I am excited to see the deals we can get, the capital we raise and the companies we help.”
Pat East also complimented other programming the Angel Network has brought to the virtual table. One example is a recent conversation with IU’s new volleyball coach.
“We asked questions about rebuilding the IU volleyball program, recruiting and basically running it like a business. There were so many lessons to pull out in leadership, talent management, motivation, how to network and more,” he said. “It just reinforced that this is a group of people who want to learn a lot and never stop learning.”
Kennedy agreed that the programming and content provided by the IU Angel Network is what sets it apart.
“From women-owned business to industry sectors that are still emerging and need support, as an investor there are certain things I want to promote, and I know the Angel Network is going to provide more and more of those opportunities as we grow,” she said.
For Kennedy, this involvement is also one of her first exposures to the IU community at large.
“As an Arizona State alumna, I haven’t explored the Bloomington campus as much as Adam, who went to IU,” she said. “But meeting Jason Whitney and the team at the IU Angel Network has impressed me with how professional they are, and the quality of opportunities they have brought to our attention just in the first few months of membership.”
IU Angel Network thrives via connection and communication
The primary mission of IU Ventures is to translate Indiana University’s brilliant culture of innovation into more opportunity for more people. By connecting strong angel investors like these two couples with the startup founders who are also trying to change and improve the world, the IU Angel Network exponentially increases the potential of all involved.
We always hoped our community would build this momentum, but we never stopped to consider the possibility that some investors would bring their strong relationships to the table and add that much more to our growth.
To these members and every other member who has joined us in the last year, we say thank you for helping the IU Angel Network set a strong foundation. We are only as strong as our members, which means we are mighty indeed.
More about the IU Angel Network
IU alumni, current and former faculty members, employees and students, parents of IU students or alumni, and other IU supporters can learn more about the IU Angel Network by visiting our website.