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Carolina Angel Network works to give UNC graduates' businesses a leg up

In recent years, UNC has been the proverbial Garden of Eden for many student- or faculty-produced organizations. However, many such business ventures run into obstacles concerning funding or lack of infrastructure during their infancy. 

Since November 2016, the Carolina Angel Network, comprised of approximately 135 accredited UNC-affiliated investors, has been providing financial and business support to early-stage business ventures founded or managed by UNC graduates. 

Designed as a complement to the Carolina Research Ventures Fund, the Carolina Angel Network funds startups that have already generated some revenue and amassed a customer base, but may need more support in order to bring the product or service to a mainstream market. 

“We’re industry agnostic. We look for early-stage companies, but we prefer for them to have revenue because that shows traction,”  Chelsea Eshraghi, the director of CAN, said. “We look for unique ideas that are defensible and that have a large enough market.”

CAN exclusively provides funding to for-profit business ventures founded or operated by UNC graduates, so current students should not expect to apply during their time as an undergraduate. 

Unlike many other UNC-affiliated funding opportunities, CAN allows a nationwide applicant pool, as long as the venture is managed or founded by a UNC graduate. To date, over 150 organizations have applied to receive financial support from CAN. 

After completing an online application, selected applicants can expect to meet with Eshraghi and an outside screening committee that evaluates the potential risk to investors and market viability of the proposed venture. 

The venture concept is then introduced to CAN members, and further due diligence investigations are conducted by a group of MBA and law students at UNC. Eshraghi works with this group to prepare reports that are presented to interested CAN investors. 

“It’s a way for those MBA and law students to get first-hand experience on due diligence reports, because they don’t usually get the opportunity to look closely at the companies,” Eshraghi said. 

Finally, the due diligence reports are presented to CAN investors, whom, after meeting with venture management, decide whether or not to invest. 

As of Feb. 22, CAN has closed investment deals with seven companies, averaging approximately $250,000 per venture. CAN has fostered business ventures including a home air filter subscription, a medical device venture and a material science company. 

CAN’s first, and arguably, most successful investment venture, a health care software company called Bivarus, was acquired by Press Ganey, a health care consulting firm, less than a year after it received an investment through CAN. In addition to financial support, companies that partner with CAN cultivate mentorships with their individual investors for the purpose of gaining business insight and growing company infrastructure. 

“Beyond their direct investment, we got access to investors who had varied experiences and helped us formulate our sales strategy, and were sounding boards for us as we continued our journey,”  Dave Levin, the former CEO of Bivarus, said. 

Levin stated that Bivarus used the funds it received from CAN to continue to build their product and invest in sales and marketing efforts. Having seen Bivarus through its recent acquisition, Levin hopes to join CAN and continue to foster other UNC-affiliated startups. 

As far as future ventures are concerned, CAN evaluates applications based on concept alone and does not give priority to entrepreneurs that are traditionally underrepresented in business. However, CAN Managing Director Randy Myer said the organization is cognizant of its investment portfolio and would be open to investing in startups led by women and minority entrepreneurs. 

“Not everybody knows what the Carolina Angel Network is, so they may not have applied even though they’ve got a great idea and they fit the profile of being early-stage,”  Myer said. 

Myer attributed this to CAN’s application process. He said prospective ventures approach CAN seeking investment, and CAN does not seek out applicants.

“We’re still trying to get the word out to people that we exist and that if you’ve got a good idea and want to start a business, please come see us. We’re there," Myer said.  


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