By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
This is the forty-third interview in our series on financing for entrepreneurs. I am talking to Kiki Tidwell, an angel investor and board member of the Northwest Energy Angels, a membership organization of private investors who are interested in funding cleantech entrepreneurs. Founded in 2006 and based in Seattle, they’re investing in deals nationwide.
Irina: Hi, Kiki. Why don’t you briefly start with your background?
Kiki: I’ll go back to the time when I became interested in cleantech as an industry in Idaho for rural economic development in around 2003. I was very proactive and started learning about the opportunities available in cleantech, and I realized what a huge change this was going to be and what a huge market opportunity it presented.
I got involved in another angel group, which started in Idaho, a chapter of Keiretsu Forum, and I started to learn about angel investing in the group setting. Then I found the Northwest Energy Angels over here in Seattle and started coming over for their meetings. They were much more appropriate for me because I’m interested only in investing in cleantech.
Northwest Energy Angels invests only in cleantech energy deals, so that’s a good use of my time rather than sitting through several presentations on sectors I’m not interested in. I think it’s the only angel group that has focused only on cleantech. We say that we’re based in Northwest, but we’re making deals from all over the United States. It’s just harder to do due diligence and invest in deals that are farther away, but if they’re great, we’d love to know about them.
Irina: What did you do before you got involved in angel investing?
Kiki: My background is in real estate investing. Why I was interested in cleantech were the tax credits. I understood those from affordable housing–type tax credits I’d looked into. I’m also a philanthropist. I was on the Idaho Community Foundation board and the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund grant’s panel, the Governor’s Council for Families and Children in Idaho, trying to make Idaho a better place. I saw what a state could do with new industry could far eclipse what we would could do in grant making. Communities could build industries and fund their own schools and their own social needs through these new industries.
Irina: Where are you based?
Kiki: I am part-time in Seattle, and my main residence is in Hailey, Idaho.
Irina: What is the structure of your angel network?
Kiki: It is a non-profit member organization which is set up to connect cleantech investors with successful cleantech companies and promising entrepreneurs.
Irina: How many members do you have?
Kiki: I believe we have about 50 members right now. We have very experienced angel investors, and we also have members who are experienced in a particular technology.
Irina: When angels invest, do they invest by writing their own checks?
Kiki: Yes. We see deals presented to us at meetings once a month. We have nine meetings a year. We join together in due diligence. If we’re interested in a particular company, we work together with that due diligence team, but we make our own investment decisions at what level we’d like to. Most of our angels invest around $25,000 to $50,000 per company per round.
Irina: Where do you usually get your deal flow?
Kiki: We have a lot of our deals referred to us from our great sponsoring companies like Ernst & Young, Stoel Rives, and the Consulate General of Canada/Seattle, the Harris Group. And then we have deals referred to us by members and other professional organizations. We have a process where a company could apply online to Northwest Energy Angels at www.nwenergyangels.com.
Irina: How many applications or pitches do you get every month?
Kiki: We get about anywhere from five to eight new applications each month. This year, we’ve had 42 applicants with 22 companies selected to present.
Irina: These 22 companies presented live at the meetings?
Kiki: Yes. They come and give presentations, we ask a few questions, they go out of the room, we talk amongst ourselves about what our concerns are, and we relay those back at another round of questions. If they’re able to answer our questions, we get a better understanding of the companies.