Catching up with Miami Angels: ‘Open for business’

By Nancy Dahlberg
Miami Angels closed its first investment of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and it has another deal in due diligence now. Yep, the South Florida angel network is open for business.
 “We’ve been very busy. For investors right now, the first thing is making sure your portfolio is OK and then just trying to be strategic and thinking through what the future looks like. We have 100 different active members, and we are checking in on them and trying to take a customer-first approach,” said Rebecca Danta, the angel network’s managing director. “There have been investors that have been more materially impacted from all of this and they are not investing right now. It seems like the minority though.”
Miami Angels is coming off a strong year – its best year ever for number of deals. In 2019, the angel network invested in 16 deals, 12 of them new investments and four follow-ons. In total, Miami Angels has invested $12.7 million in 36 companies since 2014.
Like everyone else, Miami Angels has gone virtual, with its pitch nights and investor education offerings all on Zoom, including a recent webinar about investing during a downturn.
 “We are just hyper focused on quality deals. There is a lot of noise out there, and instead of go-go-go, we are trying to be very thoughtful about what is the type of education investors and entrepreneurs need right now, what are the right type of deals to be sent out and I think people are appreciating and responding to that because they are still investing,” said Danta, who joined Miami Angels in 2017 and replaced Raul Moas as managing director in 2018 when he was named Miami program director of the Knight Foundation.  
What’s new for the angel group? In 2019, Miami Angels began investing in medical devices. Danta noticed the group lacked expertise in healthcare tech, so she recruited a cohort of investor members. “Before we were having to pass on those deals, and South Florida is just ripe with healthcare deals, we didn’t want to miss out on that. In 2019, we added two.”
Some of its 2019 investments included:

  • DermaSensor – a Miami-based medical device company that has created a device for detecting the risk of skin cancer.
  • Dalent Medical — a Coral Gables-based startup developing medical devices for Ear, Nose & Throat doctors,
  • MemberHub– A Raleigh, NC-based startup providing software tools for fund-raising and engagement.
  • Grifin– A Tampa-based fintech startup that created an investment app aimed at allowing millennials to invest their spare change in companies they love.
  • Storypod– A Miami-based startup creating a screen-free edutainment platform for kids.

And in 2020, the only investment so far is Knack, a Tampa-based edtech company that looks to power the future of college tutoring by centralizing and scaling tutoring through student-first technology.  If the current deal in diligence goes through, it will have undergone a completely virtual process.
If you see more companies from other parts of Florida and the Southeast among the recent investments, that’s by design. Miami Angels is still a South Florida-first early-stage angel network, but it also wants to invest in the best startups outside the traditional tech hubs, the so-called Rise of the Rest cities.
“What we learned is we can play competitively for deals in those metro areas,” Danta said. “Our strategy has been to establish relationships with VC funds, other angel groups and accelerators in these secondary cities that are often overlooked by venture capital. Great founders can come from anywhere.”
Ed-tech startups like Knack and Storypod are a growing presence in the Miami Angels portfolio, with five companies so far. Today, of course, ed-tech is one of the sectors doing well.
Amid the current COVD-19 crisis and recessionary times ahead, what are the Miami Angels looking for? “Of course there are obvious trends coming out of this such as telehealth and remote learning. We’ve always been generalists so we can look very broadly, but spaces like hospitality and travel are suffering right now. What we are trying to do is look for trends a little beyond the obvious ones,” Danta said. “I think fin-tech is having a moment right now, as well as logistics.”
Bruno Lulinski started as a full-time venture associate in February. Lulinski, who was born in Argentina and grew up in Aventura, majored in finance and economics at UF, went to work at an investment bank in Charlotte, NC, for about a  year, and then moved back to Miami and started working part-time with Miami Angels last year.
“Rebecca is phenomenal with investor relations, a great manager and the face of the organization,” he said. “I’m very technical and oriented to the details of investing. I love to dive into the financials.”
His job includes evaluating the in-bounds, helping to figure out which companies will present to investors and organizing that process, and handling the transactional details of getting investments consummated.  Knack was one of them.  
“I only graduated a few years ago, so I really saw the pain point they are looking to solve. The founder is so thoughtful about his business in such an innovative way, and thankfully the angels in our group felt the same.”
Lulinski also helped close Grifin, a fintech company. “I don’t use the word visionary lightly, but the young founder was just an inspirational guy.  He is the type of person who finishes pitching to you and you just want to say here’s money, go build something awesome.”
Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter and email her at [email protected].

Nancy Dahlberg