Princeton-based entrepreneur/investor Larry Richards read about Princeton Job Creation Forum’s “speed dating session” in the January 6 edition of U.S. 1, and he promptly signed up for it. But this is not speed dating to find your perfect mate. It’s more like finding your perfect business opportunity.
PJCF’s co-founder David Sandahl calls it “Investing in Innovation” and, with the help of Princeton University’s Karen Jezierny, will host the event at the Friend Center on Tuesday, January 26, at 8:30 a.m. Registration, even for observers, is a must: Go to http://pjcf.org. (Full disclosure: I am a supporter of Princeton Job Creation Forum.)
Sandahl aims to put two dozen entrepreneurs in the same room as two-dozen potential funders and start the clock ticking. The alarm will ring at five-minute intervals.
For an entrepreneur like Richards, the event is an opportunity to find financing to start a new business job creation engine.
For financiers the speed dating session offers a look at two dozen early-stage businesses and a possible stake in a growing enterprise. In addition to bankers, there will be venture capitalists, private equity firms, angel investors, corporate development officers, and possibly funders in a new category: Virgin angels.
Virgin angels, my just-coined term, are affluent individuals who worry about how difficult it will be to create jobs and want to help. They have money to invest, and they are tired of losing money on Wall Street. Given the opportunity, perhaps they would invest in Main Street, putting their funds to the enormously important work of helping to create jobs in New Jersey.
Richards believes that Princeton might harbor some virgin angels. “I know how much money is in Princeton and how frustrated individuals have become with what is happening in the stock market,” he says. “And they have become more locally focused than they were even five or ten years ago.”
Angels typically invest between $100,000 and $500,000, and they are often asked for a second or third round of financing. Mentors for virgin angels are available. For instance, Dan Conley of oncallCFO.com nurtures a group of “regular” angels called Silicon Garden Angels Network.
But why can’t civic-minded people with less money help out? By forming a microinvestment fund, another new kind of angel, the MiniAngel, could chip in just $1,000, $5,000, or $10,000 to help create jobs.
Something like that is happening on a larger scale with Jumpstart New Jersey, a private, member-led angel group that invests in early-stage technology companies in the Mid-Atlantic region. Its investors are often entrepreneurs who have made their millions. Those from the Princeton area include Kenneth Kay, founder of EBudgets, Bill Martin, founder of Raging Bull, and Phil Politziner of Amper Politziner & Mattia, the accounting firm.
But why couldn’t it work on a micro level? It would be a bear to manage, for sure. Jumpstart New Jersey pays an administrator, and novice investors would certainly need a manager and advice.
But tough times call for innovative solutions. Sandahl reports from the latest meeting of the New Jersey Recovery Accountability Task Force that the use of food stamps in New Jersey has gone up 40 percent since the recession began, along with similar increases in requests for housing assistance and cash assistance.
What kind of companies can create these jobs? Sandahl and his cohorts from PJCF are beating the bushes for prospective investments in three areas — green technology, smart infrastructure (energy and transportation), and healthcare. In the green technology arena, he found Nick Hegedus of REGENCO, a Pennington-based firm that aims to vaporize junk tires to make natural gas and electricity.
Richards focuses on healthcare information technology. A graduate of the University of Maine with an MBA from Wharton and a former partner at two Big Four consulting firms, Richards was CEO at Scranton-based Diversified Information Technologies.
As CEO of Stage C Partners, he hopes to expand an existing company in the electronic health records field and create 200 jobs.
“We see a lot of the work on medical coding going off shore, and we really want to stem that tide,” says Richards. “We can create a minimum of 200 to 300 jobs that the state so desperately needs.”
Richards thinks that this PJCF effort, led by Sandahl, is right for the time. “I was very impressed with Sandahl because he emphasized innovation. That is right on target with what Mercer County and the state need,” says Richards.
I think there is money under Princeton mattresses that could be used to replenish jobs that were lost in the finance and telecommunications industries — jobs that are never going to come back to New Jersey. Virgin Angels, MiniAngels, and just drum-beaters like me. We can do this –– Princeton can do this.