Back to Blog May 16, 2014 in

Grand Angels Credits Deep Pool of Expertise, Michigan’s Ecosystem with Success

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Fund Celebrates 10 years: Invests $14 million in 29 companies


Grand Angels is one of the investment engines making Michigan’s economy more competitive and robust. Its focus is on investments that will have a positive effect on the state through business growth, job creation, and the attraction and retention of talent. Since its inception in 2004, Grand Angels has had that positive effect on our economy: The organization has invested $14 million in 29 companies.


Grand Angels invests in life science and technology, which is a function of opportunity explains Jody Vanderwel, Grand Angels president. “Michigan is ripe with great deals in life science and technology,” she said. “We look for deals that have a significant Michigan presence, but most importantly, we invest in the jockey, not the horse. This state has a pool of high level talent in life sciences and technology that know how to grow and develop a company, and as a result, Grand Angels has made several successful investments in those markets.”


Grand Angels portfolio company raises $60 million

One of those successes is ProNAi Therapeutics, a company dedicated to developing and commercializing a new class of therapies that target DNA to treat patients with cancer and other complex genetic diseases. Grand Angels invested in ProNAi in 2005, and went on to make seven additional rounds of investment in the company.


“A lot of Grand Angel members consistently invested in ProNAi because they believe in technology and the company’s leadership. With the closing of its recent $60 million investment round, that confidence was vindicated,” said Vanderwel. “ProNAi is a great example of how Michigan investors will band together and get behind a company that they believe in.”


It’s also a great example of investing in the jockey and not the horse: ProNAi is led by Mina Sooch, who was placed as the company’s CEO through the Michigan Venture Capital Association’s executive attraction program.


Prior to joining ProNAi, Sooch worked for Apjohn and asked Grand Angels to join in Apjohn’s investment in the company, Vanderwel explained. “Mina saw what angel funding could bring to company, and Grand Angels saw the opportunity to get involved in a deal that was led by a VC that understood life sciences,” she said. “By investing in ProNAi, Grand Angels had the chance to understand the potential for life science, and how deals in that industry are done. Since then, Grand Angels has co-invested with a VC that has life science expertise in almost every subsequent life science deal.”


The success that Grand Angels has had with its ProNAi investment isn’t isolated. Two other portfolio companies have had successful exits: RFIdentics was bought by Avery Dennison – exited 18 months after Grand Angels invested in the company, and Accuri Cytometers, was bought by Becton Dickinson.


Thoughtful investments, expertise fuel Grand Angels’ success

Vanderwel credits Grand Angels’ successes with not only making thoughtful investment decisions, but also helping those investments grow by offering a deep pool of expertise to the growing companies.


“In contrast to VCs and individual angels, Grand Angels offers 50 successful business people who have skills, intelligence and experience that are valuable to an entrepreneur,” Vanderwel said. “Expertise is a huge advantage for angel groups that people don’t always see – our investors serve on boards, mentor, make introductions and do whatever they can to help the company be successful and deliver great returns to the investors.”
Looking forward, Vanderwel is excited for the potential Michigan offers for angel investors. “Michigan is very entrepreneurial; this is a place where ideas are being generated and research and development are happening all the time,” she said. “There are more good deals here than capital, and it’s possible to syndicate deals because of the collaborative angel and venture community in Michigan.”


“We’ve been reasonably successful over the last 10 years, but there are always ways to improve to continue to be successful,” Vanderwel added. “Grand Angels is focused on continuing to build syndicating capabilities here in the state, and responding to crowd funding, which is truly important seed funding that gives deals the chance to become angel ready.”


One thing is certain: Grand Angels is ready to invest in great companies and build on its successes.