What is an Angel Investor?

An angel investor (also known as a private investor, seed investor or angel funder) is a high net worth individual who provides financial backing for small startups or entrepreneurs, typically in exchange for ownership equity in the company. Often, angel investors are found among an entrepreneur's family and friends. The funds that angel investors provide may be a one-time investment to help the business get off the ground or an ongoing injection to support and carry the company through its difficult early stages.

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Angel Investor

Understanding Angel Investors

Angel investors are individuals who seek to invest at the early stages of startups. These types of investments are risky and usually do not represent more than 10% of the angel investor's portfolio. Most angel investors have excess funds available and are looking for a higher rate of return than those provided by traditional investment opportunities.

Angel investors provide more favorable terms compared to other lenders, since they usually invest in the entrepreneur starting the business rather than the viability of the business. Angel investors are focused on helping startups take their first steps, rather than the possible profit they may get from the business. Essentially, angel investors are the opposite of venture capitalists.

Angel investors are also called informal investors, angel funders, private investors, seed investors or business angels. These are individuals, normally affluent, who inject capital for startups in exchange for ownership equity or convertible debt. Some angel investors invest through crowdfunding platforms online or build angel investor networks to pool capital together.

Key Takeaways

  • An angel investor is usually a high net worth individual who funds startups at the early stages, often with their own money.
  • Angel investing is often the primary source of funding for many startups who find it more appealing than other, more predatory, forms of funding.
  • The support that angel investors provide startups fosters innovation which translates into economic growth.
  • These types of investments are risky and usually do not represent more than 10% of the angel investor's portfolio.

Origins of Angel Investors

The term "angel" came from the Broadway theater, when wealthy individuals gave money to propel theatrical productions. The term "angel investor" was first used by the University of New Hampshire's William Wetzel, founder of the Center for Venture Research. Wetzel completed a study on how entrepreneurs gathered capital.

Who Can Be an Angel Investor?

Angel investors are normally individuals who have gained "accredited investor" status but this isn’t a prerequisite. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) defines an "accredited investor" as one with a net worth of $1M in assets or more (excluding personal residences), or having earned $200k in income for the previous 2 years, or having a combined income of $300k for married couples. Conversely, being an accredited investor is not synonymous with being an angel investor.

Essentially these individuals both have the finances and desire to provide funding for startups. This is welcomed by cash-hungry startups who find angel investors to be far more appealing than other, more predatory, forms of funding.

Sources of Funding

Angel investors typically use their own money, unlike venture capitalists who take care of pooled money from many other investors and place them in a strategically managed fund.

Though angel investors usually represent individuals, the entity that actually provides the funds may be a limited liability company (LLC), a business, a trust or an investment fund, among many other kinds of vehicles.

Investment Profile

Angel investors who seed startups that fail during their early stages lose their investments completely. This is why professional angel investors look for opportunities for a defined exit strategy, acquisitions or initial public offerings (IPOs).

The effective internal rate of return for a successful portfolio for angel investors ranges from 20% to 30%. Though this may look good for investors and seem too expensive for entrepreneurs with early-stage businesses, cheaper sources of financing such as banks are not usually available for such business ventures. This makes angel investments perfect for entrepreneurs who are still financially struggling during the startup phase of their business.

Angel investing has grown over the past few decades as the lure of profitability has allowed it to become a primary source of funding for many startups. This, in turn, has fostered innovation which translates into economic growth.