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Earning their wings Featured

9:42am EDT February 27, 2003
Thinking about becoming an angel investor? It could turn you into the devil.

There's at least that possibility, as several angel investors pointed out at a recent MIT Enterprise Forum program.

Angel investors are acknowledged as the key to getting a fledgling venture off the ground and prepared for successive rounds of financing, but the nature of the relationship between entrepreneur and investor can create conflicts that strain the arrangement.

Angel investors acknowledged that entrepreneurs and angels have ample opportunities for conflict and disagreement, to the point where the angel finds it necessary to replace the company's founder if he or she doesn't produce the results promised or expected.

Here are a few common complaints from entrepreneurs and the way angel investors respond to them.

* "Most "investors are too proactive."

Angels say they bring more to the table than cash; they offer business savvy, professional connections and management expertise.

"In all honesty, I don't think that I would want to invest in a deal where an entrepreneur just wanted a passive investor," says Steve Robinson, general partner in Robinson Venture Partners.

* "I don't see eye-to-eye with the angel investor."

An angel deal is like a marriage, angels point out, and both parties need to have a clear picture of their respective roles in the relationship.

"The most important thing is to understand each other before you tie the knot," says Robinson.

* "Angels give me no credit for my past sacrifices of income or other assets."

"You are entitled to sweat equity," says George Fechter, an angel investor, "and it should be defined and it should be recognized retroactively."

On the other hand, the entrepreneur is sometimes too eager to reward his lawyer, accountant or other professional friends with the angel's money, says Bob Capretto, an angel who has been investing in technology ventures for three decades.

"The entrepreneur must also appreciate the risk that the angel is taking, and I'm not sure that's always the case," says Robinson.

* "My plans for this business became a draft for the angel's business plan."

Few people get everything right on the first try, say the angels, so business plans often need revision as conditions change.

"A good business plan is always a living, changing document," says Robinson.

While entrepreneurs and angel investors may be at odds at any given turn, they do seem to agree on at least one thing.

Says Fechter: "The investor should be interested only in what's good for the business, as should the entrepreneur." How to reach: MIT Enterprise Forum, www.mitforumpgh.com