Angel Investors Face High Risk and Negative Returns

Some of the difficulties in angel investing are highlighted below. These difficulties support the view that self-financing is likely to remain a crucial mode of initial financing for many high-level entrepreneurs.

(p. B1) An angel investor is anyone who privately provides capital to a promising business, often a start-up, that isn’t run by a friend or family member. Scott Shane, an economist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, estimates that the U.S. has at least 140,000 active angels who collectively invest some $20 billion a year in new businesses.

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Being an angel is hellishly risky. To be sure, one recent study found that 7% of the angel investments with final outcomes went up at least tenfold. And many fledgling angels are driven by the dream of finding the next Google while it still is in the cradle.
But roughly half of all new businesses fail within their first five years, according to the Small Business Administration. Not surprisingly then, researchers have estimated that at least half of all angel investments lose money and 48% of investments with final outcomes result in a 100% loss.
Worse, those returns were earned by “accredited” angels, individual investors with at least $200,000 in annual income and $1 million or more in net worth. The vast majority of the profits from angel investing appear to be earned by the top 10% of angels, who tend to be rich, well-connected veterans of high-growth industries. Unaccredited angels, with less capital to offer and weaker links to expert advice, are likely to see fewer deals with potential for high returns.
Furthermore, these private businesses are illiquid, so angels can’t dump their holdings at will, the way mortals do every day in the stock or bond market. Thus, being an angel takes enormous patience. “Your losers die faster than your winners win,” said Robert Wiltbank, a business professor at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.
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So why would anyone want to be an angel, and who should consider it? “You get to play God a little,” said Paul Kedrosky, an active angel investor and a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship. “You get the charge of helping to create something exciting, without having too many annoying partners.”

For the full commentary, see:
JASON ZWEIG. “THE INTELLIGENT INVESTOR; Can Angel Investors Earn Heavenly Returns?” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 31, 2009): B1.
(Note: ellipses added.)

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