In San Antonio, an NBA Star Helps Launch City’s First Angel Network

San Antonio—In a crowd of sport coats, collared shirts, and Oxford shoes, it was easy to spot Brent Barry, and not only because the former NBA player towers above almost everyone. He was also dressed more casually, trading in business attire for a warm jacket, beanie, jeans, and a pair of New Balances.

Barry’s outfit made sense: He invited the crowd to gather at his home north of downtown San Antonio on Dec. 7 to celebrate the launch of the San Antonio Angel Network, a group he helped create earlier this year. The group was no doubt happy to have Barry dress however he pleased.

It was a uniquely chilly night for South Central Texas. Mark Novotny was in town for the launch party from Boulder, CO, and wearing a jacket thick enough for work on a snowy ranch. Novotny runs Spinal Stabilization Technologies, which has offices in Boulder, San Antonio, and Dublin, and he was considering becoming a member of the angel investor network.

That was the purpose of the event: to draw in new members of the San Antonio community who have the wealth, knowledge, and interest for investing in startup companies. In September, the San Antonio Angel Network publicly announced itself and said it had hired former Rackspace employee Chris Burney as the executive director.

The group is the brainchild of other former Rackspace employees, including Lorenzo Gomez, Lew Moorman, and Pat Matthews, as well as others in the San Antonio startup scene, such as Michael Girdley, Amit Mehta, Cole Wollak, and Barry, the basketball star. Since retiring from the league in 2009 (after winning two championships with the Spurs), Barry, now an NBA analyst, says he has made select investments in real estate and small businesses—one being in Alamo Beer Co.

But Barry says he was surprised to learn that San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the U.S., lacked a network for angel investors, which might help individuals find and invest in local startups. Even much smaller cities in Texas, from Austin to Lubbock, have such networks.

Brent Barry

Brent Barry

Barry became involved after meeting Mehta at the school both their children attend. Mehta is a radiologist who is also the founder and chief medical officer of Intrinsic Imaging, a startup that offers image management and radiological review services to life sciences companies. Mehta knew Girdley through State Rep. Diego Bernal, and they brought together a core of six angels by June. Barry, whose prominent name gives the organization an obvious boost, joined in September. (Besides winning two championships, Barry’s other NBA claim to fame is that of 1996 Slam Dunk champion.)

“It’s been bandied about for a while but no one had done anything about it,” Girdley, who founded a coding school and venture fund in town, wrote in an e-mail about starting the network. “The city needed a place where early stage ventures can go and investors can find them.”

For Pat Matthews, who runs a startup called Filestack, the network represents the possibility that San Antonio could attract more startups and business to town.

“If we can create more funding sources that make it easier for the best entrepreneurs to raise money, more of the best will come to San Antonio or at least be connected to us,” Matthews wrote in an e-mail. “Both situations are powerful for the city.”

For Barry’s part, the angel network is an opportunity to invest in the technology and science he’s found interesting since he was a kid, while also providing funding to early stage startups, which might keep those companies in San Antonio. It’s common for former athletes to get into investing after or during their sports careers. In the NBA, LeBron James is known for making loads of cash on Beats, the headphone equipment company. Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony are both involved in their own venture capital firms.

“Keeping it here and promoting what’s here—with this, we’re not letting these people escape us,” Barry says of San Antonio and its entrepreneurs. “We want to be as diverse as possible. We want to make sure all of those avenues are available.”

With a two-piece band playing rock in the background, about 80 potential investors attended the launch party, be it to see how a former NBA player lives, to get free barbecue, or to consider joining the network, which charges … Next Page »

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David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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