NW Energy Angel Kiki Tidwell Seeks to Professionalize Angel Investing Through Kauffman Fellowship

10/18/10

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she hopes to bring back to her role as a cleantech angel. If angels want to play a larger role in early-stage investing, she says, the key is to organize.

“Angels are at the point that venture capital was maybe 10, 15 years ago,” Tidwell says. Her goal is to help bring about the “professionalization of angels as a career choice, as opposed to a hobby.”

Having worked in the cleantech space in Idaho since 2003, where Tidwell says things are finally moving, albeit at a “glacial pace,” she was more than happy to find an entire angel group dedicated to supporting the cleantech space in Seattle—the Northwest Energy Angels. There Tidwell, along with new executive director Margo Shiroyama, have both been able to take strides to help professionalize the space. The 53-member organization is capitalizing on the educational opportunities afforded to the group through field trips to local companies and research institutions, and the organizing of an investment advisory board, which Tidwell backed, to help give the angels a broad knowledge base about the variety of opportunities within the cleantech sector, so that are ready to invest when good opportunities present themselves.

“I push them a lot,” she says. “I’m pushing them to provide really good value to the members and provide the best deal flow.”

And there isn’t just one silver bullet. Success in the cleantech sector is going to depend on “a lot of wins in a lot of different sectors,” she says. That’s why Tidwell is spending two years behind venture capital lines—to bring “insider information on innovation, and investing” to the angel world.

“A critical piece of both angel and venture investing is to help companies succeed, and nurture them, and advise them,” she says. “Venture capital is very cyclical. There have only been two times where it has brought on huge returns in our history, and it’s only been around in its professional form since the mid’60s. I believe there are opportunities in cleantech that could mimic those returns in the future.”

But, in order for the cleantech sector to bring about similar returns, Tidwell says investors—venture and angel alike—need to take a stronger interest in their education surrounding the space. And, she adds, there needs to be an IPO market, an element that has been “pretty stagnant for the last few years.”

Tidwell expects this is all about to change. With companies like Tesla Motors and A123 Systems having successful IPOs, she says things are looking up. The next step, according to Tidwell, is for angel groups to band together, as the NW Energy Angels have, to “professionalize” and promote the education of its members, and take advantage of the research and innovation-rich environment around them.

“Ecosystems like Seattle are exactly perfect for expanding the sectors in cleantech,” she says. “Our group is a non-profit group, so we really only exist to add value to each other. As we educate the angels, as they start to get more into the due diligence of deals, they start to get more of a comfort level, and start to invest in things.”

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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