By Nancy Dahlberg
The Miami Angels, one of Florida’s largest angel networks, nearly doubled its membership from the start of 2021 and is coming off a record year of investment, too. In recent months, its new leaders have hit the ground running and have big plans, as Miami’s ecosystem continues to boom.
After Rebecca Danta announced she was stepping down as managing director, the board selected Kat Wilson [pictured above] to take the helm. Wilson grew up in Ocala, majored in business at University of Florida and moved to Chicago, working at JP Morgan doing risk and control project management before embarking at an MBA at University of Chicago. While she knew at some point she wanted to start a company, she planned to start out in consulting but caught the entrepreneurial bug during her last year in the MBA program and founded The Minte, a startup aiming to disrupt the status quo of housekeeping, that was acquired in 2021. During the pandemic, while working on another tech startup, this time in the beauty space, she got introduced to Danta. “We hit of off,” she said. “This felt like a great way to really connect with the community while working on the venture side,” she said.
She brought on Jared Schwitzke as principal, after former venture associate Elle Chen left for a role at Reciprocal Ventures in New York.
Jared Schwitzke worked at big tech firms, contracting for Apple and Google in the Bay Area. While it was a great experience, he said, “I wasn’t feeling super fulfilled. I was a very small cog in an overwhelmingly large machine.” So he joined early-stage startups in the LA area, first a travel startup and then a fintech startup, and then jumped into VC at GreatPoint Ventures. But then during the pandemic “I saw that there was this fervor growing around a new tech ecosystem, a tech ecosystem that was a little bit closer to my heart,” said Schwitzke, whose mother was born in Cuba. He arrived in early 2021, at first renting in Airbnbs and getting to know the community before making the move permanent last December. He launched Deal Flow Miami with Brian Breslin as a service that connects ffund-raising founders to investors, and he eventually connected with Wilson. “I’m very, very long Miami and I’m a big, big fan of the angel model.”
Of course they are building on a strong foundation. Since 2014, the Miami Angels have been led by Nico Berardi, Raul Moas and Rebecca Danta and has been steadily growing along with the tech community. To date, the Miami Angels have invested more than $22 million.
“It is awesome to step into something that has such a great reputation and has grown so much and had great leadership in the past. One of the things that we want to really focus on is continuing to expand the size,” Wilson said.
Miami Angels now has 175 members, up from 90 around the start of 2021. “There’s not a set number that we want to get to, but we can make some additional outbound efforts right now,” Wilson said. “A lot of our new members come through organic, social and through referrals and so it’s a little bit of a closed loop and by doing some general digital advertising, by making sure we’re reaching out to everyone who’s had a recent tech exit, all of those sorts of things, we can really expand the group not only in numbers but in terms of areas of expertise and diversity.”
The Miami Angels have typically focused on seed stage companies with roughly half a million to $2 million in revenue. “But the more members we bring on, the more people we have who do like to go a little bit earlier or a little bit later,” said Wilson, adding that could mean a pre-seed group within the Miami Angels or widening the scope to pre-seed to Series A.
Another area to expect expansion is in events, she continued. “We heard a lot from the members that the social component is a very real part of why they join. We’re upping the events to about 20 events per year so that there’s an opportunity for everyone to just have that close relationship with each other.” That will include happy hours at iconic spots around Miami, fireside chats with C-suite executives or tech founders, educational events like classes on blockchain basics, and pitch nights.
Deal flow was already strong and Wilson and Schwitze also brought in their own networks from Chicago and the Bay Area, respectively, they said. “We’re not seeing too much of a pullback on the investment side either, Wilson said. “Thankfully, early stages are not impacted to the extent that later stages and what we are seeing is some members are actually investing more and other members might be investing less. If you’re a member who has a lot of assets tied to the public markets, you might not want to liquidate right now. But if you’re investing new cash or something that was in bonds, the lower valuations are great for you and you might actually be pulling the trigger more now than you were six months ago.”
Wilson and Schwitze said Miami Angels remains Florida focused but not exclusively. “If we can bring an amazing deal from somewhere else in the country, great, we want to do that because we know that our angels are Miami based and if they’re getting good returns, even if that particular deal happens to be from somewhere else nationally, it still gives them a reason to invest back in the asset class and that plays very much into the Miami tech ecosystem. Our goal is to bring members the best deals, I would say that we’re about 70% or 80% Miami area, and then about 20% is elsewhere,” Wilson explained.
Miami Angels typically invests $200K to $500K in a round that is $2 million to $8 million in size, Wilson said. “For every seed-stage deal coming out of Miami, we want to be sure that that’s coming through Miami Angels.”
One of their newest investments has been in Michael Sayman’s Friendly Apps. Schwitzke and Sayman met last year and they have kept in touch. “When I heard that he was raising for Friendly Apps, I hadn’t even joined Miami Angels but I was texting Kat, ‘my buddy is raising this round and trust me, Miami Angels is going to want to see this one’,” he said. “It was exciting to bring that one through.”
As far as what type of companies that Miami Angels funds, it hasn’t changed too much. They steer away from direct to consumer and anything that’s hard sciences, such as biotech. The six areas of focus for Wilson and Schwitzke are fintech, climate tech, bloctchain/web3 , b2b SaaS, and proptech. During Danta’s time at the helm, The Miami Angels significantly cut the amount of time needed to close deals, from months to weeks.
To date in 2022, Miami Angels has invested $3.1 million. Over the next 12 months, Wilson believes they can double last year’s record high of $4.2 million deployed.
Founder support will continue to be a priority, with Miami Angels members and the team quick to help with a certain hire, or with intros to other VC s for their round, or a corporate introduction for a b2b model, Wilson said. The Miami Angels leadership team also includes Christian Suarez as operations coordinator, and a board of seasoned investors: Nico Berardi, Brenda Freeman, Mark Kingdon, Melissa Krinzman and Tigre Weinrich.
“it’s all about community,” Schwitzke added. “Community means founders, community means members, community means bringing those two individuals together. And as the membership base grows, we have more dry powder, which allows us to get into better deals, and raises the brand of Miami Angels, which can attract more founders into the ecosystem.”
Where do they hope to see Miami in five years? More strong industries will help Miami weather macro-economic storms, Wilson says, and she sees climate tech and healthtech already starting to gain a foothold, as well as fintech and web3.
“I would love to see Wynwood become the East Coast’s Sandhill Road, Schwitzke said. “If the city can prove that a Sand Hill Road can be created without all of the problems that came with San Francisco, I think that would be a big boon for the ecosystem.”
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