An Inside Look into Tech Coast Angels with JohHarbison

Last Wednesday, Tech Coast Angels hosted its Orange County Entrepreneur Mixer and invited many local entrepreneurs to talk with many of our TCA investors. Those in attendance also had the chance to witness a 2-minute pitch contest in which about a dozen or so companies had the opportunity to get direct feedback from many of our TCA members. Orange County Chapter President John Harbison had a few words to say before the festivities started and was glad to sit down for an interview about what TCA is trying to accomplish in southern California.

Tech Coast Angels is a collection of 300 individuals who have had success in their careers in various ways, many of which have come up through entrepreneurial experiences themselves,” Harbison states. “We work together to give back to the community in terms of trying to foster more innovation and more companies to be successful in the future.”

TCA wants to not just be viewed as the “money” to entrepreneurs, but as a network of highly knowledgeable professionals who seek to foster entrepreneurial passions and provide guidance towards success. Such guidance can include leads to better opportunities, extensive networking, workshops, and even one-on-one counseling. Harbison stated that TCA would even go so far as to direct them to other investors if it is in the best interest of that particular entrepreneur.

Since TCA has over 300 members stretching from the Los Angeles down to San Diego, it is fair to say that Tech Coast Angels is the largest network of angel investors in the United States. The sheer size of TCA’s network makes it likely that there will always be a member somewhere that has expertise in any given field or industry. This vast ocean of different expertise allows TCA to invest and foster startups in virtually any industry, whereas many other angel investor groups tend to stick to just one or two industries with which they are familiar.

Harbison adds “We can cover a lot of different industries, where as a small group doesn’t have the breadth of experience…it tends to help us make better decisions on what to fund, but it also helps us in adding advice and council for companies as we go along.”

Even though TCA is very large, don’t let that make you think they don’t invest plenty around southern California. According to Harbison, “We have invested in 260 or so companies in the last 17 years and we’ve put about $150 million into those companies, plus another $1.6 billion into them from follow on investment from other later stage investors. We may see over 200 companies in a year, and of those 200 that get to a screening, we’ll maybe invest in about 20 of those; of the 90 percent that don’t get funded, we try to leave them better off.”  

If there is one thing to take away from Tech Coast Angels, it is that they are there to make you better than you were before you came, offering advice and council whether or not they provide funding. Heck, they may point you in a direction that will get you funding eleswhere if not by them. How many investor groups will do that for you?