Shasta Angels Group for Entrepreneurs
Hand in HandMarch 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Betsy Erickson
It can be said that behind every business is a good idea, but hwere would those ideas be without funding and direction? "Ideas are a dime a dozen, says Eric Hiatt, executive director of Shasta Angel Group for Entrepreneurs (SAGE). "It's execution that counts."
That’s why Shasta County business owners and entrepreneurs came together in 2011 to form SAGE: to create the county’s catalyst for turning good ideas into better businesses. Hiatt describes the 14 members of SAGE as “a group of individuals who saw a need in Redding for new startup companies, and a need for capital.”
Hiatt joined SAGE as an investor in 2013 and soon became its executive director, and he knows from personal experience the importance of local funding. As a founding partner of Security 1 Lending, now the largest reverse mortgage bank in the country, Hiatt had to do his share of seeking fundraisers. “We have thousands of employees across the country,” says Hiatt. Part of the company is based in Redding, but Hiatt couldn’t find local support for his startup. “There was no one locally who would spend the time to talk and invest in me,” he says. That wasn’t a problem for Hiatt, who was able to find money outside of Shasta County since his startup wasn’t locally restricted. But what about those businesses local to their communities, or those geographically restricted by their services? Where would they go to find investors if not in their own community?
Hiatt wasn’t the only investor who saw the “disconnect” in Shasta County between investors and startups, so SAGE was formed to bridge that gap. “SAGE itself,” says Hiatt, “is a conduit – channeling entrepreneurs to mentors and investors.” Its mission is “to create growth, cultivate partnerships, and promote prosperity for the betterment of the region.”
The two components of that mission are financial investment and mentorship. “We not only invest financially,” explains Hiatt, “but we also invest our time and energy.” And as Hiatt points out, as hard as it is to start a business, it’s even harder for that business to succeed. “There’s nothing easy about starting a business, and the majority of small businesses fail. Support is everything.”
While SAGE’s financial support is essential to the local startups, its mentorship likely has a greater, longer-standing impact. Hiatt himself serves as the treasurer of the board for FireWhat Inc., a wildfire mapping and tracking company that received support through SAGE.
“SAGE coming onboard gave us the opportunity to really grow,” says Sam Lenier, FireWhat’s chief executive officer and cofounder. Lenier also can attest to the need for local investment – for three years, FireWhat was nothing more than an idea before local investors got involved. “Really, no one from the Bay Area understood the wildfire risk and how important it was and what our business was doing, until we hit investors here in the North State who understood,” he says.
FireWhat was already up and running before SAGE invested financially, but it was the group’s mentorship that made a significant difference. According to Lenier, the mentorship came by way of counsel, helping to make connections through introductions to legal staff and other business contacts, as well as “the reassurance that somebody would be there backing us.”
Hiatt doesn’t pretend that SAGE isn’t a group of investors looking for a financial return. “Absolutely, I want to see the community grow,” he says, and “the members of SAGE want to see a return on their investment.” Of course, that’s the name of the game. But these local
investors aren’t interested only in the bottom line or dollar – they are members of the very community that they are trying to improve. A failed business doesn’t just hurt these investors’ wallets; it also hurts their community.
By late 2013, SAGE made its first investment, and it would like to support at least two startups per year. The group is currently made up of 14 investors, but Hiatt says they would like to see that number increase to 20 to 25 members, all actively investing in their community.
Personally, Hiatt loves the position in which he finds himself. “We all have our own things, but we want people to know we’re here for them.” And as somebody who has started his own business and watched it grow and succeed, being a part of others’ success has come naturally to him. “Quite frankly, it’s the perfect fit for me.” And if anybody with an idea and a plan thinks they might be a perfect fit with SAGE, they need only apply.