AngelCentral: Growing startups through angel investing
Through workshops and pitch sessions, AngelCentral aims to advise and educate a 500-strong network of angel investors in a bid to grow Singapore’s startup community.
It all started about five years ago at Costa269, a humble cafe tucked along Holland Village.
Mr Lim Der Shing and Ms Huang Shao-Ning would occasionally meet startups and friends there over coffee to explain what angel investing was.
These casual chats were a way for the two, who had just stepped out of the corporate world then, to stay anchored in the world of investment, while supporting startups in Singapore. And soon enough, word of mouth of their expertise began to spread.
“Our friends were introducing us to whoever mentioned angel investing to them,” said Ms Huang, who previously founded Singapore’s largest online career portal JobsCentral, with Mr Lim. “We thought we could run a workshop to share our experiences.”
From there, things took off.
The pair roped in Mr Phey Teck Moh, chairman of investment and advisory company Xpanasia, and organised seven angel investing workshops – both locally and in Malaysia – from 2016 to 2017.
They began inviting startups to these workshops in a bid to connect workshop attendees, who were mainly co-investors, to promising entrepreneurs.
What was initially a filler project for Mr Lim, Ms Huang and Mr Phey has since grown to become one of the fastest growing communities of angel investors in Southeast Asia.
Today, AngelCentral has over 500 angel investors under its belt, and has raised more than S$6 million worth of funding commitments for over 40 startups in the region.
An outlook of the angel investing climate
Angel investors play a crucial role in Singapore’s startup scene, said Ms Huang, who pointed out several trends and gaps prevalent and unique to the little red dot.
One observation from their end is that there is sometimes a “misalignment” of expectations between angels and startup founders. Angel investors also appear to be “quite random in their methodologies” when it comes to selecting which startups to invest in, she added.
More venture capital (VC) firms have also been moving upstream to focus on Series A deals, which refer to a startup’s first significant round of VC funding.
“Compared to the US where there is a much denser and active angel network, there is huge potential for angels to fill up the gap here,” said Ms Huang.
Promoting good angel investment practices
As part of their main activities, AngelCentral organises regular curated pitch sessions and angel education workshops here in Singapore to promote good and effective practices in angel investing.
This month, it collaborated with the Singapore University of Social Sciences to conduct five half-day sessions touching on investing fundamentals, as well as legal and portfolio management content.
Last month, AngelCentral was awarded the Startup SG Accelerator grant, one of the schemes under Startup SG which is managed by Enterprise Singapore.
The Startup SG Accelerator scheme supports incubators and accelerators within Singapore’s startup ecosystem. It provides funding and non-financial support for partners to further enhance their programmes and expertise in nurturing successful startups.
In the coming year, AngelCentral will also be launching its revamped website and digital platform. The platform will provide angel investors greater access to startups, and a more comprehensive selection of online angel investing resources.
“This is something we have been working on for the past year, and our goal is to bridge our members with even more startups on top of the usual 40 to 50 pitching companies each year,” said Ms Huang. In 2018, AngelCentral received close to 400 startup applications for their pitch sessions.
Playing a supporting role
Looking forward, the three co-founders hope to broaden both the angel investor community and startup deal flow from within the region over the next two to three years.
Most of AngelCentral’s current angel investors are based in Singapore, and they range from young early “retirees”, to exited founders who are keen to contribute back to the startup ecosystem, to high-flying corporate executives who see angel investing as a means to diversify their investment portfolio.
“This is extremely important for us, as a broader base could only mean more learning and collaboration opportunities for our local ecosystem,” said Ms Huang.
But they need all hands on deck – the trio can only play supporting roles in the push for a more vibrant and robust startup community.
“It is important for angels to have the right mindset too,” Ms Huang said. “We are cheerleaders in the business; we are not the drivers.”