The Wharton Alumni Angel Network (WAAN) enjoys a rich ecosystem of alumni coming together focused on a clear goal. After one year, WAAN has built up a membership base of 60 accredited alumni angel investors who are looking to invest in early-stage opportunities. They not only attend, but also review applicants, host pitch nights and cut checks. To date, there have been three pitch nights, 21 presentations and eight companies receiving funding. Investors need to be Wharton or Penn alumni. Entrepreneurs who pitch do not have to be alumni.
WAAN’s goal is to be a go-to destination for entrepreneurs who are looking for smart capital — and for capital looking for smart entrepreneurs, thus creating a startup ecosystem. The WAAN team is accomplishing that goal along three paths:
Teaching those who want to learn about and get involved in angel investing
Leveraging alumni who are knowledgeable and successful investors
Connecting promising opportunities with smart investors
Following are excerpts of conversations with WAAN’s executive team
Deb Bardhan, WG’11, is the glue holding the team and programs together: “From the beginning, we sought to learn from successful models of other investment clubs. We started last year and grew quickly, with blockbuster education events. The inflection point was when investment members became more involved in running the Club, to make it sustainable. Members talk to one another instead of through the WAAN leadership, moving away from a hierarchical structure.”
Lesley Stroll, W’80, organized a series of sold-out events featuring well-known angels. For one event, Brian Cohen, who is Chairman of New York Angels and Founding Partner of New York Venture Partners, shared his perspective on the status of angel investing and answered questions from attending Wharton alumni.
I asked Lesley her thoughts on WAAN’s approach to education:
“There is no secret sauce when it comes to angel investing. Instead of trying to find that secret sauce, we keep it simple, providing seasoned angels as well as newcomers with an opportunity to join together in the due diligence process and gain access to greater deal flow…. All successful angels have their own rubric to make investment decisions, which is why sharing ideas and information is the best kind of networking that there is. Educational events provide angels, as well as the ‘startup curious,’ an opportunity to add to their Lesley Stroll, W’80, toolbox.”
Deb Bardhan: “If you are a startup and are looking for advice and guidance on different facets of your venture, such as how to reach customers, WAAN is a resource. If you are an alum thinking of getting involved in angel investing, WAAN has a strong showing of seasoned angel investors willing to guide and answer questions. Similar to Y Combinator or Techstars, the main value here is connecting people.”
Corey Luskin, WG’94, leads the outreach effort to investors. He also emcees the pitch nights, and oversees investors’ participation in helping to run the group: “Our team was relatively new to investing — so we asked members who were full-time early-stage investors to look over the shoulders of newer investors and review the terms. There is an acquired ability that comes from reviewing a thousand business plans. They can look at a plan and say, ‘I have seen this in one shape or another. I know the three key questions to ask. I know the variants of this type of plan that others have proposed. And I know the problems that others have run into.’ That’s why we’re fostering collaboration where people put their best thinking on the table, yet without groupthink.”
Corey: “We continually solicit feedback on the types of applicants that investors would like to see. We began with technology in the first pitch night, and then got feedback to diversify — reflecting the interests and backgrounds of our investors. Now, we have applicants across the board — food, software, healthcare IT, services and more.
Amy Pan, WG’12, manages the sourcing and screening of entrepreneurs. The WAAN team works with active individuals and groups in the startup community to match promising entrepreneurs with our investors. Amy: “One of our goals is to drive innovation and progress by supporting exceptional founders and teams. Our members have experience across multiple industries and functions, allowing WAAN to engage with a diverse set of entrepreneurs solving an equally diverse set of problems.”
Corey: “We want the vetting process for applicants to be competitive. To actually filter and vet is an incredible amount of work. Typically, we will have 150 companies apply, and we narrow that down to seven finalists who actually pitch. For the first pitch night, our executive team performed the vetting. As WAAN grew, our investor members have taken that on, which is awesome, and means we are truly functioning as an ‘investment club.’
One distinction that’s important to understand is that we are not a fund. Some angel networks form a fund that members invest into, trusting an investment committee to decide where to deploy the funds. WAAN is here only to facilitate, bringing investors and opportunities together. From there, investors make their own investment decisions — and there is no pressure to write checks.
Michelle Fan, W’13, handles marketing communications and follow-up after events. For each pitch night and education event, Michelle reaches out to members and relevant groups. She responds to questions from members and potential members to the WAAN website or through the WAAN LinkedIn group. In addition, Michelle administers the applications for basic memberships which are free for alumni, and premium memberships, which are $150 per year.
“Since my role covers all functions of the organization, I can really see how different groups, angels, entrepreneurs and even basic members, interact with one another and grow our network. Many members have told me how much they have learned from WAAN. As have I.”
How to apply to present to investors at WAAN pitch night.
Corey: “Go to the WAAN website. Click on the Entrepreneurs tab, and then select the Submit Application button. This allows you to upload your business plan and supporting documents, and answer basic questions about your product, team and financial model. It is possible to upload videos.
The website allows the WAAN team to click through the applicants. Some applicants are diligent about providing all we ask for, while others write an introductory paragraph, and that’s it. It’s almost impossible for us to respond to something like that, so by default, they will be excluded from the screen.”
THE FIRST CHECK.
What’s so exciting about WAAN is that, as a result of the education, mentoring and the attention to detail, investors are writing checks. The first one was written by Marty Isaac, W’85, during the first pitch night. Marty is the CEO of HooplaHa, a fun website focusing on positive news. Marty: “I think WAAN is a terrific way to learn about early-stage companies. I’ve participated in all three meetings, and the quality of companies presenting seems to get stronger each time. I’ve invested in one company thus far, www.slidejoy.com, and intend to invest in more.”
Ed Mintz, WG’01, is a physician and individual investor who consults for venture capital and hedge funds. In reference to the April 1 pitch night, Ed noted: “I found my first meeting incredibly interesting. The companies were well-vetted, and my fellow angels seemed polished, collegial, and quite capable of evaluating and participating in deals. If I were starting a company, I’d be thrilled to get an audience with this group, as I think the potential investors who I met could add a lot of value to startups.”
BIOS OF WAAN’S EXECUTIVE TEAM
Deb Bardhan, WG’11, WAAN Chair and Member of Steering Committee, has more than 10 years of experience in innovating and bringing to market cutting-edge technologies and products. Deb is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Xpand, a company developing technologies for the new generation of workforce needs. Xpand’s flagship product has widespread adoption among Fortune 1000 companies. Prior to founding Xpand, Deb led a $200 million business segment at Thomson Reuters. Deb previously worked as a venture capitalist and began his career in the Algorithmic Trading Group of Goldman Sachs.
Deb got involved because, “At Wharton, as an entrepreneur, you have a lot of support. But once you become an alum, it’s difficult. I try to help other entrepreneurs by providing a network for them. WAAN was a way to make a sustainable effort to help alumni become a part of the startup ecosystem.”
Corey Luskin, WG’94, Vice Chair of Angel Outreach, is an investment banker with England & Company, where he works with growth-stage companies and investors on a wide range of strategic and financial needs. He has extensive experience in mergers, acquisitions, divestitures and financing transactions primarily for media, information services, financial services and technology companies. Corey was previously Head of Corporate Development for Bisys and Innodata, leading acquisitions and corporate venture initiatives. Corey graduated from the Wharton MBA program in 1994 and is a CFA charter holder.
Corey: “I got involved in WAAN for three reasons: 1) In my work as a banker, by definition, I deal with later-stage companies. However, I’m constantly meeting early-stage companies. So, I thought, why not refer them to Wharton Angels? 2) The networking benefit on the angel side. They are an extraordinary group of high-powered folks. 3) Ultimately, as I get into it, I’d like to do angel investing.”
Michelle Fan, W’13, Operating Partner for Social Media and Communication, is currently an Analyst at BlackRock, specializing in portfolio composition and allocation advisory. Previously, she worked in buy-side investment research and in academic research, where she conducted due diligence on different equity investment opportunities in Asia/Pacific. Michelle was the CFO of Un-Buttoned General Partnership, an apparel startup born on the Penn campus, prior to her graduation. While she was at Penn, Michelle also played key roles in devising and executing marketing strategies for various organizations. Michelle is a holder of the CAIA (Chartered of Alternative Investment Analyst) designation.
Michelle: “I joined WAAN because I have always been interested in investment and entrepreneurship. My role within the group really enables me to learn about both sides, while getting involved operationally. My colleagues on the Operating team are incredible to work with, and they are all so passionate about making the organization a success. It’s been truly an amazing experience.”
Amy Pan, WG’12, Vice Chair of Deal Flow, has 10 years of experience advising and building companies, with a focus on product management and operations. Currently, she is responsible for strategy and development of the core platform product at Contently. Previously, she was on the product team at AppNexus and began her career as an investment banker and private equity investor, focused on investments in technology, media and healthcare.
Amy: “I loved being a part of the entrepreneurial community at Wharton, so WAAN was a great opportunity to get involved again, while actively supporting startups and creating a network of like-minded people. Personally, I find it inspiring to work with entrepreneurs and enjoy keeping an eye out for new ideas.”
Lesley Stroll, W’80, the Vice Chair of Education and Events, has been an entrepreneur since the third grade, when she sold sharpened pencils to her classmates. Since then, she has built, advised and invested in a number of startups. Currently consulting at the Stamford Innovation Center, she is developing programming that connects the startup community with the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Lesley is also a Core Mentor at The Refinery, an accelerator for women entrepreneurs. As a business development expert, she brings a unique combination of keen strategy, insight and a strong execution skill set.
Lesley: “I immediately understood that WAAN was an opportunity to bring together smart ideas and smart money. I believed that the alumni of the best business school in the world were capable of coming together to form a highly relevant investor community, and I am very proud of the fact that we have.”
WAAN’S STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERS
A core wisdom in the beginning of WAAN was to bring on a strong steering committee to guide the formation of the affinity group.
Ryan M. Bell, W’05, worked at Bear Stearns in mortgage structuring and securitization, and then moved to Fortress Investment Group where he is in the asset-backed lending group. Ryan was immediately drawn to WAAN by his interests in both startups and angel investing, and is eager to help WAAN, grow.
Peter Borum, WG’13, was born and raised in rural Kentucky, and in his senior year at Stanford University, he led the Stanford Daily’s advertising department to its best revenue performance in history. He started Aspirént Marketing and PR in 2009, and sold it to Revstone Private Equity in 2010. While at Revstone, he began the Executive MBA program at Wharton until returning to New York City to co-found Reelio.
Will Chen, WG’06, G’07, is a Principal in the tech and telco team at Apax Partners. He joined Apax in 2007 and is based in New York City. He serves as a Board Director for Paradigm and Epicor. Prior to joining Apax, Will worked at Bain & Company and Goldman Sachs, advising clients in the telecom and technology sectors. Will holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University, and a master’s in international studies from UPenn.
Daniel Etna, C’82, W’82, is Partner in Herrick’s broad-based corporate law department. He plays a primary role in deal-making negotiations, including strategizing, structuring and drafting. Dan frequently lectures on private and public company topics, as well as those relating to sports law, and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Dan is on the Board of Directors of The Dwight Freeney Foundation, and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Corporate Quick Hit, Herrick’s bimonthly newsletter.
William Haddad, W’89, is a leading capital markets and M&A practitioner in New York City, as Partner with Reed Smith LLP. He has worked on a full range of securities offerings and transactions, with a particular focus on international listings, and mergers and acquisitions in the U.S., China, Europe, Australia, Eastern Europe and Israel, including over 100 capital markets transactions. Bill is on the Board of Directors of the WCNY (see our feature on page 14).
Eugene Lebedev, WG’10, is the Founder and CEO of Qrency, creator of Qramel. com, an easy and intuitive way to link digital content with physical things. Prior to Qrency, Eugene served as Assistant Director of Wolters Kluwer Corporate Legal Services where he led a global team of technology professionals to enhance largescale customer-facing Web applications. Eugene has previously worked at First Index, Gatelinx and Artificial Life. Eugene is a graduate of St. Petersburg State University in Russia.
Mona Nandedkar, WG’08, is a financial services and IT executive and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies across North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific. She brings both corporate and entrepreneurial experience, having built and managed technology and operations units, serving B2B and B2C markets, spanning more
than 100 countries. Mona holds a master’s degree in computer applications and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Mumbai.
Jonathan Tamir, WG’90, is currently responsible for the faculty practice group at Westchester Medical Center, which is made up of more than 200 primarily procedural clinicians and is growing quickly. Prior to this, Jonathan was the Vice Chairman for Finance and Administration in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, a department with a budget of over $220 million and over 400 faculty members with about 70 full-time clinical staff.
Benjamin Williams, ENG’01, WG’13, is a Co-Founder of Reelio. Growing up in Connecticut, he was an Eagle Scout, and at UPenn, he founded and ran two profitable IT businesses. Ben received his U.S. Navy commission upon graduation and served as a naval officer, including two combat tours. After the Navy, Ben worked for Lockheed Martin, where he helped found the new ventures division, taking it from inception to about $250 million in annual revenue.